By Tom Marks, KCMetropolis.org
Apollo’s Fire brought to Kansas City the taste of delightful German Kaffee Saturday night with their concert, “A Night at Zimmermann’s Café” for the Friends of Chamber Music. The program was comprised of music inspired by the eighteenth-century Leipziger Gottfried Zimmermann and his famous coffee house. Throughout the concert, an air of tasteful historicism, free from pedantry, circulated amid the theater as artistic director and harpsichordist Jeannette Sorrell enlightened listeners between pieces to the broader cultural context of the music’s role and its essential place among coffee-house musicians. With works by Bach, Telemann, and Vivaldi, the Cleveland-based ensemble brought the baroque’s characteristic contrasts of formal niceties and the heated passions to the stage, effectively reconstructing the intimate Kaffeehaus in the Folly Theater.
The program began with a concerto by one of Zimmerman’s most famous patrons, J. S. Bach. The Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV1043 opened the night and was headed by Oliver Brault and Johanna Novom. The orchestra began a little shaky (perhaps too much coffee) as each separate section fought for an agreed-upon tempo. The jitters were short-lived, however, and the ensemble clicked into a synchronicity which would characterize the rest of the evening’s playing. The overall approach to Bach’s double concerto was fresh and exciting. The concerto’s second movement—played in some performances at the pace of a romantic-era trudging—was taken at somewhat of a stately tempo, and the final movement was refreshingly feisty.
Following the concerto was the more intimate “Allemande” from Bach’s Suite No. 6 for Unaccompanied Cello in D major, BWV 1012. René Schiffer portrayed the placid mood of the “Allemande” and devoted continuous attention to bringing out the individual, contrapuntal voices. While the phrasing in the dance’s A-section was well sculpted, we were rather bluntly hit over the head in the B-section with dramatic pauses at Bach’s non-diatonic kinks in the cello line. Schiffer drew overt attention to these chromatic notes where a more subtle character could have better guided the ear.
Closing the concert’s first half was Telemann’s Concerto in E minor for Flute and Recorder, TWV 52:E1. The two soloists, Stephen Schultz (transverse flute) and Kathie Stewart (recorder), paired well together, displaying their impressive breath control. The third movement, “Largo,” showed off the ensemble’s capacity for beautiful, slow playing. In a rather diaphanous texture, Schultz and Stewart spun out their lines as the ensemble delicately plucked strings underneath.
Opening the concert’s second half was Bach’s BrandenburgConcerto No. 5, BWV 1050. The concertino included Jeanette Sorrell on harpsichord, Oliver Brault on violin, and Kathie Stewart on the transverse flute. The small group had great chemistry together and an intuitive sense of ensemble. Throughout the concerto, the trio paid careful attention to each other, passing Bach’s imitative lines from one instrument to the other without stepping on anyone’s toes. The highest praise should be given to Sorrell for her execution of the extended cadenza near the end of the first movement. Sorrell played with impeccable precision, all the while maintaining full control of the cadenza’s momentum. Most impressive was Sorrell’s intentional exploitation of the numerous cadence points in the cadenza where, when coupled with the section’s relentless rhythm, draw the ear toward an expected conclusion only to be thrown into more and more tumultuous churning.
The night closed with an arrangement of Vivaldi’s Variations on “La Follia,” originally scored for two violins and continuo, but transcribed by Sorrell for orchestra in concerto grosso setting. I was interested to see how the thin texture of the original trio sonata would fit the full sound of the ensemble, and was pleasantly surprised. Not only did the arrangement work, but it managed to show off the technical prowess and consistent playfulness of the orchestra’s musicians. The piece was virtuosic which the orchestra and the quasi-solosist—Oliver Brault and Julie Andrijeski on violins and René Schiffer on cello—had no problem tackling.
The impressive showpiece left the audience buzzing (without the influence of caffeine) and brought them to their feet at the concert’s conclusion. The ensemble’s overall ability to simply have fun while making good music, paired with their stellar technical abilities, contributed to an excellent concert—one which was fuelled by historical research but never managed to neglect the basic human elements inherent in the music.
Friends of Chamber Music
Apollo’s Fire—The Cleveland Baroque Orchestra
“A Night at Zimmermann’s Café”
Saturday, October 20, 2012
300 W. 12th Street, Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit www.chambermusic.org