Fort Worth — For one night only, Texas Camerata performed Baroque music performed on period instruments in St. Patrick’s cathedral in downtown Fort Worth. Sunday evening’s program, billed as Regina Coeli, ushered in the ensemble’s new season. While there remains the unanswered question about titling the season opener as Regina Coeli (Queen of Heaven), which within the Catholic tradition is more often associated with Easter and performed during that season, it was the beauty of the music performed on Baroque instruments that captivated the audience.
Just as an essayist grapples with the problem of organizing ideas, so it is for the musician deciding upon the organization of a program for a musical performance. For both the writer and the musician, design has a direct effect on the audience (reader or listener) response. It is not accidental that during the 17th century musicians and writers concentrated on form and process which present the same question: how shall we begin? One of the more interesting choices by the Texas Camerata was the use of one composition as the cohesive element.
They selected a trio sonata by Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, Sonata in E Minor Op. 7, No. 6, to frame the program and function as an organizational or connective element. This was accomplished by separating the four movements that would typically be performed back-to-back. The first movement Moderement (which means “moderately”) is followed by Piangerò/Piangi pur from Scarlatti’s Oratorio per la Passione di Nostro Signore Gesù Cristo, and Stabat Mater by Giovanni Felice Sances. After these two compositions they returned to the Courante (a courtly dance in triple meter), the second movement of Boismortier’s Sonata de Chiesa (Sonata for Church). The program order continued in this manner, with a movement from Boismortier followed by two compositions from other composers. It was an unexpected program arrangement that worked very nicely and created an effective arc.
The trio sonata became very popular during the Baroque period. It was called a trio because it was written in three parts, typically violins and a violoncello that covered the basso continuo. While it is written in three parts, four instruments perform the trio sonata. Either a flute or oboe takes one of the violin parts, and a viola da gamba covers the cello part. The Camerata’s instrumental configuration consisted of violinists Kristin Van Cleve and Inga Kroll, Miguel Cantu on viola, Eric Smith and Debbie Brooks on cello and viola da gamba, Brad Bennight on organ. Not listed in the program was Paul Leenhouts, flautist.
Matching articulation of the mordents (ornamentation which audiences likely think of as trills) is very difficult but soprano Camille King and countertenor Ryland Angel consistently executed them with precision. Their articulation and vowel sounds were evenly blended, creating a seamless texture. King made tactical and seemingly effortless adjustments to her dynamics and phrasing that ensured that neither the instruments’ nor the countertenor’s mid-range were obscured. It was a true partnership in the duets.
Ryland Angel is an exquisite musician whose vocal deftness is exciting and aesthetically joyful. Handel favored the high male voice, melodic passages that provided the vocalist with opportunities to show their range. Handel’s Theodora was thrilling particularly through the dissonances and resolutions, the music theory at work. Again, King and Angel were precise.
Strict meter and tempi are important in the music of the 17th century. The string players and keyboardist struggled throughout the program with maintaining consistent tempi and clean attacks. This most critically affected Handel’s Salve Regina. The soprano was very instinctual and giving, texturally matching the timbre of the strings and creating an exquisite blend of tonal colors. That she was able to sustain this during the Allegro is testament to her skill because the somewhat harried tempo and the rushing of the Allegro by the organist is what prevented this from being the showstopper it should otherwise have been.
In Sances’ Stabat Mater one could hear references to pre-Renaissance organum and elegant melismatic passages. Rhythmically, this was the weaker of the performances. Usually the instrumentalists maintain the tempo but in this instance it was the countertenor who was solidly rooted in the correct tempo and lilt, and who guided the ensemble forward until finally some rhythmic synchronicity was achieved.
Program highlights included Boismortier’s Sonata, movement 4, the Gigue, and Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, which was the perfect closing number. The ensemble connected with the facility anticipated from such a highly skilled group of musicians. The fugal “Fac, ut ardeat cor meum” was delightful and exemplary of all of the elements that define Baroque music of the 17th century.