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Early Music Guild celebrates Couperin and Telemann
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Early Music Guild celebrates Couperin and Telemann

by Rod Parke - SGN A&E writer

Musica ad Rhenum at EMG
Saturday, November 21
Town Hall


The International Series of the Early Music Guild can be counted on to present absolutely first-rate proponents of early music from the western world. This concert by Musica ad Rhenum was no exception. The program allowed each of the five players to shine both as technicians and as refined musicians. They come from the US, Russia, Europe, and the Middle East and may be said to operate primarily from Amsterdam.

The full group included baroque flute ("traverso"), harpsichord, cello, viola da gamba, and violin, in a program of Georg Philipp Telemann and Francois Couperin. The traverso was wooden; the single manual harpsichord was provided by David Calhoun; the cello was held between the knees (no foot); the da gamba had seven strings (as opposed to the cello's four, thicker strings), and the violin was played with a baroque bow (arched).

The full ensemble opened with Telemann's Concerto in D major from Quadri. To say that this ensemble was lively and together would be understatement. The balance between the instruments was perfect, allowing us to change focus easily as the melody moved from one instrument to another. It didn't hurt that the four men and one woman were all attractive and communicated a joy in the music. Though many moments required virtuosic playing, there was never a sense of strain.

Michael Borgstede followed on the solo harpsichord with five selections from Couperin's Vingt-Cinquiéme Ordre from Quatriéme Livre de pieces de Clavecin. Completely free of mannerisms, he played with complete ease and musical ideas that were clearly and warmly expressed. Elaborate ornamentations never got in the way of expressing the musical line. The harpsichord was built from a kit some 30 years ago in Roseburg, Oregon. When the builder passed away, Mr. Calhoun finished the project and later purchased and refurbished the instrument.

In the Telemann "3iéme Quatour (G major)" from Nouveaux Quatours en six suites, all five players returned to the stage. In this and the opening piece, I first thought the remarkable playing of gambist Cassandra Luckhardt outshone the cello of Job ter Haar. As the playful melodies jumped from player to player, it became clear that the cello playing matched her easily, and then some. Melodies were often echoed back and forth between instruments. Quite fun.

A duo of gamba and cello followed intermission, playing Couperin's Le Parnasse ou l'Apothéose de Corelli (1724). So charming and graceful was the playing of this very French work that it nudged my own estimation of Couperin's appeal up quite a notch. Couperin's "12iéme Concert" from Les Gouts-Rénuis" (1724) followed with the larger ensemble. And Telemann's "Suite in b minor" from Nouveaux Quatours en six suites brought the program to a rousing finish.

For an encore, Musica ad Rhenum jumped into a much more overtly passionate realm with the "Chaconne" from the Telemann Paris Quartet, No. 6 in e minor. Because it was my favorite work of the night, I'm especially looking forward to the complete Quartet when the Portland Baroque plays it in its April 17 appearance at Town Hall for the Early Music Guild.

Rod Parke can be reached at rmp62@columbia.edu.

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