Virtuosity, showmanship shine in period-instrument concert

Chicago Tribune concert review: January 16, Symphony Center, Chicago.

By Alan G. Artner, Special to the TribuneJanuary 18, 2013

The last 20 years brought a startling level of virtuosity to period-instrument performance, and Wednesday night’s concert in the Grainger Ballroom of Orchestra Hall served as a vivid illustration.

British recorder player Piers Adams joined Garry Clarke and Baroque Band in an exploration of music written in the gallant style that charmed 18th Century audiences with grace and simplicity.

But the exquisite celebrations of happiness tinged with melancholy that typified the gallant style in painting were not for Adams. His performances of four recorder concertos showed a technical command that would have far surpassed players of the period, and he drove it home with a showmanship more indebted to contemporary rock musicians than the delicacy of canvases by Jean-Antoine Watteau.

To leather pants Adams added jackets and shirts that he changed with the music. Blue and black were for Georg Philipp Telemann and Giuseppe Sammartini, two shades of red for “the Red Priest” Antonio Vivaldi. Bodily movement also acted out passages of the scores with lunges, half crouches and — in Telemann’s Concerto in C for alto recorder – balancing on one leg.

Every note sounded fresh and crisp, with air around it even in the fastest music, which at times was pushed to the limit. In the second movement of Sammartini’s Concerto in F for descant recorder Adams also provided a short but elaborate ad libitum cadenza, again played with force and dazzle.

The recorder concertos on each half of the program were separated by works for string ensemble alone. Here, in Clarke’s performances of concerti grossi by Giovanni Sammartini and Francesco Manfredini, could be discerned something different from virtuosity. Speeds slowed, tone relaxed, volume dropped from an omnipresent forte. And in, say, the interchanges between Joan Plana and Wendy Benner’s violins the ease of the gallant style replaced near-fierce flamboyance.

However, the C-minor and C-major Vivaldi concertos, for alto and sopranino recorders, returned to the evening’s bowl-you-over proficiency. It eased only in an encore, the slow movement from “Winter” of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” which Clarke began but left to Adams and players without a conductor.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday at Music Institute of Chicago, 1490 Chicago Avenue, Evanston, and 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Augustana Lutheran Church at the corner of South 55th St. and Woodlawn Ave., in Hyde Park.

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