John Frayne: Italian, Hungarian works delightful for audiences
It is refreshing occasionally to escape from the contemporary musical world, from enormous orchestras with tremendous crescendos.
On Oct. 20, the Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana presented a concert of Italian Baroque instrumental music, played in the small, lovely Chapel of St. John the Divine, across the street from the University of Illinois campus. Five Baroque pieces, ranging from solo harpsichord to an ensemble of no more than six players created an ambiance like a musical evening at an Italian noble court of the 18th century. All that was lacking was candlelight.
The musical sound included the delicate plucking of the lute, masterfully played at the concert's opening by guest artist Jeffrey Noonan in Antonio Vivaldi's Concerto for Lute in D Major (RV 93).
At the other extreme of sound level were the ringing tones of the Baroque trumpet robustly played by Jeremy McBain, a regular player with BACH.
Christopher Holman, a student at UI School of Music, demonstrated a high level of technical mastery in the "Toccata Ottava" and a complicated and inventive "Bergamasca" by the earliest Italian composer on the program, Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643).
The oboes of Angela Schmid and Evan Tammen were melodiously joined in duet in the "Concerto a cinque," Op. 7, No. 5 of Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1750).
Perhaps the most exotic sounding instrument of the evening was the viola d'amore, played by guest artist William Bauer. To my ears, this instrument sounded like a violin, but the sound of played strings produced a resonating buzz from a set of resonating strings.
Bauer was joined by lutenist Noonan in the Concerto for Viola d'amore and Lute in D Major (RV 540).
The expert players of the chamber ensemble were Sun-Young Gemma Shin, Daniel Colbert, Jieyeon Kim-Schleicher, Amy Flores, and Guilherme Ehrat Zils.
In contrast to the BACH concert, the sound levels were quite high at "Hungarian Rhapsody," an Oct. 23 program by the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble in the Foellinger Great Hall at Krannert Center for the Perfroming Arts.
This concert offered a steep learning curve for me. Long a fan of Hungarian classical music, I have been exposed to some Hungarian folk music though the works of Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly. But to enjoy a dozen sets of songs and dances from various regions of Hungary without some knowledge of the Hungarian language poses certain problems.
That said, the dances were performed with admirable skill, and the folk costumes, especially those of the female dancers were splendid. I could perceive a certain level of differences in the many regional dances, but only up to a point, and after that, a slight feeling of repetition set in. Concert organizers offered four musical interludes along the way, and one of them, a tribute to Franz Liszt's "Hungarian Rhapsodies," offered familiar melodies from these works played by a small "gypsy" ensemble.
But what were the members of the ensemble singing about? Without translations of any of the songs, one was left wondering. The amplification of the solo woman singer (no name given) made the sound shrill, and the general level of sound was high, and somewhat incessant.
The program offered few credits, but among the few credits Gabor Mihalyi was listed as artistic director and choreographer, and Istvan Pal and Ferenc Radics were listed as orchestra leaders.
The cimbalom player was terrific, and the violinists were excellent. The audience seemed to enjoy the general effect of high spirited enthusiasm shown by the dancers, and a rousing finale, with danced encores, brought most of the audience to their feet at the program's end.
John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at email@example.com.