Tableau Baroque enlightens with music of Handel and his contemporaries

By Alan Becker

We may be in the doldrums of summer, but thanks to Seraphic Fire, we have a summer concert series of considerable interest to enlighten and help pass the time until the fall season.

Seraphic Fire presented Tableau Baroque in their South Florida debut Thursday night at Saint Martha’s Church in Miami Shores. The program, called “Handel’s Inheritance,” offered a look at the formative years of the Baroque master, as well as several other composers identified with the courts and chapels of 17th century Europe.

Friday’s program was divided into three acts, the first of which covered Halle, Germany and vicinity. Nicolas Strungk (1640-1700) served as director of music for Hamburg for 14 years, and was represented with a Suite in G minor. The Suite consists of four very short movements in the French style—-pleasant but quite ordinary music, though it received a stylish performance by harpsichordist Henry Lebedinsky,

More impressive was an Allemande by Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow (1663-1712), who served as organist in the Marienkirche in Halle for most of his life. This expressive piece is taken from a keyboard suite, and is intriguing enough to regret that the entire work was not performed.

Countertenor Ian Howell

Drawing the first act to its close was the exquisite duet, Ach, mein herzliebes jesulein, by Johann Schelle (1648-1701). Taken from one of the composer’s sacred cantatas, the music interweaves two countertenors in lovely harmony and counterpoint. Ian Howell and Michael Albert blended perfectly and had the technique to smoothly transition from one register to another without any discernible break. Their tonal production was gorgeous, and a highlight of the concert.

In the second act, “Hamburg, 1704-1706,” sections of Reinhard Keiser’s opera, Claudius were interpolated with the Sarabande from Handel’s Almira, and the aria, Lascia ch’io piango  from his opera Rinaldo, and Ian Howell’s beautiful singing of the vocal selections probably left few dry eyes in the audience.

The final act of the evening, “Italy and Hanover, 1706-1711,” consisted largely of the cantata, La Seneca, by the ill-fated womanizer Alessandro Stradella, who was killed after being caught in a compromising situation with a married woman. Scored for countertenor and continuo, the cantata tells of the final moments of the Stoic Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca, who was ordered by Nero to kill himself for his lack of loyalty to the notorious Emperor. The recitative and arioso style writing is deeply moving in both music and prose. It was sung by Ian Howell with power and expressive emotion, the singer projecting his voice strongly while keeping his tone under admirable control.

Bononcini’s Sonata for Violoncello and Continuo in A minor, provided an opportunity for cellist Brian Howard to demonstrate his prowess as a soloist. The two-movement sonata is no undiscovered masterpiece, yet Howell’s elegant playing made a reasonable case for this attractive if rather shallow music.

That Handel frequently borrowed from himself (and others) is well known, and was a standard practice of the day. As a last minute substitution, Ian Howell performed Handel’s Arcadian duet, Quel fior che all’alba ride as a solo aria, a work that reveals the origins of two of the composer’s best-known Messiah choruses, And He Shall Purify and His Yoke Is Easy.

Binding the entire program together was the stylistically correct Baroque violin playing of Michael Albert, who also showed his versatility by doubling as the evening’s countertenor. Albert also plays oboe with the Portland (Maine) Symphony, and shared in the infectious enthusiasm generated by the entire Tableau Baroque ensemble.

The program will be repeated 7:30 p.m. Friday at First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables, 8 p.m. Saturday at All Saints Episcopal Church in Fort Lauderdale, and 4 p.m. Sunday at Miami Beach community Church.; 305-285-9060.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Tableau Baroque enlightens with music of Handel and his contemporaries”

  1. Posted Jul 24, 2009 at 12:12 pm by Bob Williamson

    Having worked last evening backstage with the four artists I would add that they are very nice people and that comes through during the performance. For those who missed it last night, you’ve got three more chances. Do not miss them.

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Fri Jul 24, 2009
at 10:49 am
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