March 24th, 2011

Early Music Now: Sinfonia New York, "The Art and Ecstasy of the Chaconne"

On Saturday afternoon the 19th, we went to the Zelazo Center on the UWM campus for Early Music Now's presentation of the Sinfonia New York's concert, "The Art and Ecstasy of the Chaconne."

This was EMN's fund-raising event, and prior to the concert we inspected the many very nice items that had been donated for silent auction (everything from the expectable CDs and restaurant gift certificates to crystal bowls and a bicycle). We sampled the free chocolate that was put out to lure you into the room (yum!) and bought a couple of CDs at the $5.00 table.

Technically, a chaconne, also called passacaille or ground, is "a set of variations over a repeating bass line." As a dance, it was considered scandalous in its day, and was supposedly banned by the Spanish Inquisition. There were national and regional variations and styles, and the Sinfonia took us through a good sample.

While all very interesting, I can't say that, for me, all the pieces were thrilling to listen to. In particular, the "Chiacona for Violin and Continuo," by Antonio Bertali, which consists of eight minutes or so of violin variations (soloist Therese Salomon)over the cello, lute, and harpsichord playing the same four notes at the same tempo through the entire piece, had me nodding off due to its hypnotic effects.

Other pieces were nore stimulating, in particular those with vocals or dance. Soprano Nell Snaidas performed beautifully on Purcell's "Dido's Lament," and "Bist du bei mir," by G.H. Stolzel, particularly.

Three pieces in the second half had reconstructed period dancing by Patricia Beaman and Carlos Fittante, which was very well done. In two of their pieces, they wore masks, which I always think adds to the difficulty. I was also interested that Ms. Beaman wore the costume of a stage or "ballet" dancer of the day, rather than "court" garb. With skirts ending just below mid-calf you could appreciate the foot and ankle work, but it must have been pretty racy for the 17th century.

One of the more musically interesting pieces was the J.S. Bach "Chaconne from the Partita in D Minor," for unaccompanied violin. (Soloist Claire Jolivet.) In this piece the violinist plays not only the variations but also the ground, making it a quite demanding piece to play.

The concert ended with a "Gran Chacona" (arr. by Grant Herried, "after Aranes") which had the full group playing, the dancers, and song by both Ms. Snaidas and Mr. Herreid, who is also the group's lutenist. This ended the evening on a colorful and rousing note, and we went away well satisfied.

All of the Sinfonia New York Musicians are excellent, and we would be glad for the opportunity to see them another time.

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