Camerata del Re presents adventurous Czech program

By Lawrence Budmen

"The Village Dance" by Jan Molenaer.

The stately, venerable sanctuary of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Delray Beach provided an acoustically fine ambience for a concert of Czech music from the Baroque and Classical eras on Sunday afternoon. Camerata del Re, an ensemble of local musicians dedicated to period-instrument performance, presented works by Samuel Capricornus, Andreas Hammerschmidt, Jan Dismas Zelenka, Jiri Antonin Benda, Josef Antonin Stepan, Frantisek Vaclav Hurka and Josef Myslivecek.

The composers are hardly household names, yet a surprisingly large, off-season audience turned out for this adventurous program. Most of the music proved well worth reviving and, with one significant exception, the performances were stylish and well articulated.

Capricornus’ Chaconne in D was more than slightly similar to Pachelbel’s famous Canon with its repetitive bass line and ear-catching melody. An incisive performance benefited greatly from the stellar playing of Laurice Buckton, a graduate of London’s Trinity College, whose Baroque violin has graced such famous early music ensembles as the English Consort, Hanover Band and Collegium Musicum ’90.

Soprano Karen Neal brought glamour, impeccable musicianship and gorgeous vocalism to motets by Hammerschmidt and a set of 18th-century art songs. A familiar South Florida presence from performances with Seraphic Fire and the Miami Bach Society, Neal underscored the somber aura of Hammerschmidt’s Sun nun wieder (Be content now) and the festive celebration of Es danken dir (Thank the lord, all you people) with crisp, vibrato-less vocalism. Harpsichordist Anita Smith and cellist Elena Alamilla offered deft support, adroitly dovetailing Neal’s ornamented vocal lines.

Singing in Czech, Neal adorned Stepan’s Svoboda with the lightness and charm of an operatic soubrette. Turning to German language songs, her lively declamation animated the Mozartean strophes of Benda’s Von nun an, O Liebe (From now on, O love). Neal turned operatic diva for the sturm und drang of Die Schopfung, Hurka’s wildly inventive description of biblical creation, with fearless leaps between registers and vivid dramatization that was riveting. She conveyed the romantic longing of Hurka’s Die Sommernacht in soaring tones, capturing the beauty of a mini-aria worthy of Mozart. Neal was accompanied skillfully on the fortepiano, the forerunner of the modern instrument, by Keith Paulson-Thorp, St. Paul’s director of music.

Zelenka was often compared to J.S. Bach for his complex counterpoint and thematic invention, though such qualities were difficult to perceive in the amateurish performance of his Trio Sonata No.1 in F Major. Scott Ireland,  a commercial real estate executive and patron of the St. Paul concert series attempted the Baroque oboe line yet his pallid tone and sour, out-of-tune playing were light years removed from the polished performances of his colleagues.

Robert Billington’s lithe, agile Baroque flute animated Benda’s Sonata No.2 in G Major, a melodically delightful soufflé. The brilliance and energy of Billington’s reading of the final Allegro was particularly distinguished. In duet with Billington the light, pliant sound of Paulson-Thorp’s fortepiano was refreshing in Benda’s ascending melodies, an antidote to overassertive accompanists on modern concert grands. Alamilla’s continuo part was unusually intricate, displaying her considerable virtuosity on the Baroque cello.

The program concluded with Myslivicek’s lightweight Trio in B-flat Major. Like many contemporaries of Mozart, Myslivicek could spin a graceful melody but created tedious, unimaginative development of his thematic material.  Billington, Buckton, Alamilla and Paulson-Thorp gave the score their best efforts, however and the concluding Menuetto was particularly lovely and elegant.

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Mon Aug 20, 2012
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