Baroque Band led with authority by Standage

By Alan G. Artner, Special to the TribuneSeptember 20, 2013

What now is known as “historically informed performance” began to gather steam just over 40 years ago with the founding of the period-instrument group The English Concert.

Simon Standage was first violin of the ensemble for half that time, making with it and other groups a number of significant recordings before starting to teach baroque violin in England and Germany.

He is, then, a key figure in the movement that scrubbed clean the music of several centuries, so his appearance with Baroque Band on Wednesday night had an unusually high degree of authority.

Listeners in Orchestra Hall’s Grainger Ballroom heard eight concertos with Standage both as director and violin soloist. Most of the scores were from Italy (courtesy of Antonio Vivaldi, Giuseppe Torelli and Tomaso Albinoni), but the scintillating program also drew upon France (Jean-Marie Leclair) and Germany (Johann Sebastian Bach).

Standage gave cues mainly with eyes, head and violin bow. Only once, at the start of “Winter” from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” did he establish a pulse with an open hand. Having launched a movement, he generally let it unfold naturally, without intrusive nudging. His stance as he played was still and solid even in the most thrusting fast movement, the finale from Vivaldi’s Concerto for full ensemble, RV 156.

Apart from moments of wavering pitch in the Adagio of Vivaldi’s “Autumn” – only two concertos from the “Seasons” were presented – Standage’s playing was technically suave and interpretatively elegant, which made it ideal for Leclair’s Op. 10, No. 3 Concerto, with its central dance-like Andante.

Self-effacing care marked the Bach E-major Violin Concerto, particularly in the first movement where the composer insists on (and often repeats) abrupt shifts in dynamics in consecutive measures.

Some violinists find great heat in Italian repertory. But Standage’s Torelli (Op. 8, No. 9) and Albinoni (Op. 10, No. 11) were more refined, without restraining the sweep of the first movement of the latter. Vivaldi’s pictorial evocations in the “Seasons” concertos likewise were unexaggerated, though Standage allowed stronger eccentricity to emerge from his encore, Vivaldi’s brief Concerto, RV 163, which, oddly, has strings imitate the sound of a conch shell.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at, respectively, Evanston’s Music Institute of Chicago and the Augustana Lutheran Church in Hyde Park. 312-235-2368.

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