The Princeton Festival Baroque Orchestra
The June 27, 2018 performance of the Princeton Festival Baroque Orchestra at Miller Chapel, Princeton Theological Seminary, was a real delight. The 13 piece ensemble led by Concertmaster Juan Carlos Zamudio was in perfect form, giving us crisp and precise renditions of classics by Handel, Telemann, Brescianello, Vivaldi and Martin Marais.
The concert began with Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from Solomon, one of the last of his many oratorios. Solomon is today rarely performed in its entirety but this excerpt, a bright and lively interlude, is a frequently used processional set piece; often a choice for weddings. The last time I heard this piece was when the opening ceremonies for the 2012 London Olympic Games was televised. Hearing it in the intimate setting of Miller Chapel was far preferable and much more in keeping with the composer’s intentions.
Telemann’s Concerto for Viola in G Major
The next selection was Telemann’s Concerto for Viola in G Major. The Allegro is the most frequently performed movement in this concerto but we were given all four movements. Written between 1716 and 1721, this is among Telemann’s most famous compositions. An interesting aspect of the fast movement is that many performer’s editions encourage the performer to invent a varied pattern of slurs which fits the shape of each phrase. I cannot claim sufficient expertise to comment on the degree of invention the Festival Orchestra allowed itself. All I can say is that the result was superb.
Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello’s “Symphony in F Major” was the third selection. Little is known of Brescianello prior to his 1716 arrival at the court of Duke Ludwig Erhard of Würtemburg, where he eventually became court Kapellmeister. His tenure in that position fluctuated with court finances. But even so, he was known much more for performing and conducting than for composing. We are not often afforded the chance to hear something from Brescianello’s relatively limited body of works so this occasion was a pleasure and of academic interest as well.
Vivaldi’s “Concerto for Four Violins in B Minor” was next on the program. This piece is the tenth in a set of compositions called L’estro armonico,” The Genius of Harmony. Generally considered the most important contribution to Italian orchestral music of the period, it is often proposed as the most important work in all European orchestral music of the 18th Century. The Festival Orchestra handled the fast pace of the piece, bringing us flawlessly into the triple time theme of the ripieno in the closing Allegro alternating with brilliant episodes for the soloists.
Finally the orchestra gave us a suite from Alcyone, a 1706 opera by Martin Marais. This work, hugely successful in the 18th Century with extracts often played at court balls, is particularly known for the “tempest” movement, a bravura piece that has kept Alcyone alive for three centuries. The Festival Orchestra’s rendition was fully in keeping with this long history of audience satisfaction as was clearly demonstrated by the enthusiastic applause.
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