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Music review

Sharp contrasts stir Baroque Institute's 'Passions'

Email|Print|Single Page| Text size + By Matthew Guerrieri
Globe Correspondent / July 28, 2008

CAMBRIDGE - The International Baroque Institute at Longy, a weeklong immersion in that musical halfway house between the Renaissance's florid exuberance and the Classical era's bright clarity, is now in its 15th summer; on Friday, the Institute's faculty (and a few guests) offered an anthology of the style in a concert called "The Passions of the Soul."

Much of the evening was marked by high contrast. In a Quartet in D minor by Georg Friedrich Handel, flautist Jed Wentz stretched the tempo of slow movements in a formal, languid way, but in fast sections violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock dominated (as she did in much of the concert), with a bracing, biting tone and a driving, hurtling rhythmic momentum. It's playing that, perhaps, advertises its earlier provenance by avoiding any indulgent hint of intervening Romanticism. Similarly, countertenor Ricard Bordas gave a superb account of "Per tutto il timore" from Handel's opera "Ezio," a mini-drama of insistently sustained intensity, with coruscating runs and ornaments.

More casual tempi proved variable. Harpsichordist Arthur Haas played a Suite in C major by the Restoration composer Matthew Locke; a wayward sense of time fit the "Prelude" but elsewhere distended the beat, and the overall effect was jerky and disjointed. But in a suite from "The False Consonances of Musicke" by Locke's countryman Nicola Matteis, Lucas Harris, on the elfin Baroque guitar, phrased in an organically spacious way; his expressive strumming hinted at the debt American folk tradition owes to Baroque dance. So did a violin Sonata "alla scozzese" by Francesco Maria Veracini, Blumenstock's quick Scottish decorations foreshadowing fiddling, before a shift into minor-mode operatic territory. (Period dance had its own spotlight: Ken Pierce, in costume and character, whimsically stepping a "Chaconne for Arlequin" from Charpentier's "Le Malade Imaginaire.")

Most of the performances located expression in the movement between notes, but occasionally expressive variation turned up within individual tones. Paul Leenhouts and Jon Daniels manned limpid, lucid recorders in a Pavan by Henry Purcell, variable breath pressure producing some fine warbling ornamentation. And oboist Gonzalo Ruiz teased out a flexible legato line in the slow movements of Handel's Concerto in G minor, while deftly tripping through the fast movements (though Blumenstock's fiery downbeat to the final Allegro seemed to startle even Ruiz).

Of course, the Institute is also part summer camp, and encores brought summer-camp high jinks; the full complement backed Bordas in Baroque arrangements (courtesy of Leenhouts) of "Every Breath You Take" and "Yesterday," the lyrics rewritten to reflect the week's efforts. Every era has its golden oldies.

The Passions of the Soul

Presented by the 15th International Baroque Institute at Longy

At: Edward M. Pickman Concert Hall, Longy School of Music, Friday

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