When the sonata was new music

Quicksilver’s program was titled “Stile Moderno: the New Science of Music in Italy.’’ Quicksilver’s program was titled “Stile Moderno: the New Science of Music in Italy.’’
By Jeremy Eichler
Globe Staff / June 17, 2011

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The Baroque violinist Robert Mealy has been a fixture at the Boston Early Music Festival in recent years, participating often as a leader of the festival’s orchestra. On Wednesday he brought one of his groups, Quicksilver, which he directs with violinist Julie Andrijeski, to Emmanuel Church for a late-night performance.

Starting at 11:30 p.m. and ending well after midnight, the program struck just the right balance required for this BEMF timeslot, which is to say it was a concert with elements of both serious musicological expedition and relaxed early music party. Given the hour, the crowd that turned out was impressively large and with an average age, perhaps not surprisingly, far younger than the audience who came to BEMF’s own 5 p.m. presentation that same day.

Quicksilver’s thoughtful one-hour program was titled “Stile Moderno: the New Science of Music in Italy’’ and it focused on little-known instrumental works from the early 1600s. As Mealy wrote in his program note, the smooth facades of Renaissance polyphony had by that point given way to bold new musical experiments, including the sonata itself, which was being used as a vehicle for dazzlingly personal expression.

Or at least, so the works presented here were chosen to emphasize. The program was enjoyably curated to highlight the rough-and-tumble, Wild West aspects of the sonata in its infancy, before styles and conventions had become more unified. A key figure in the Venice chapter of this musical revolution was the composer Dario Castello, represented here by three works placed at the beginning, middle, and end of the program. Among them, Castello’s Sonata Decima from Book II of his “Sonate Concertate’’ of 1629 made the strongest impression with its wonderfully mercurial writing, full of unpredictable turns and sudden gusts of virtuosity.

The concert also gave a nod to the violin’s emerging role as a dance instrument via two suavely sparkling selections by Tarquinio Merula. A lavishly conceived, decadently dissonant keyboard toccata by Michelangelo Rossi was thrown in for good measure. And the program’s penultimate work, “L’Aguzzona’’ from the “Affetti Musicali’’ of Biagio Marini, stood out with its rhapsodic asides and rather melancholic lyricism.

The Marini and almost all of the other works received fresh, technically assured, and rewarding performances by Mealy, Andrijeski and their colleagues — Greg Ingles, trombone; David Morris, cello; Avi Stein, harpsichord; and Charles Weaver, theorbo. Why more local presenters, given the right program and the right occasion, don’t explore this timeslot is to me a real mystery.

Jeremy Eichler can be reached at

QUICKSILVER Robert Mealy and Julie Andrijeski, directors

Boston Early Music Festival

At: Emmanuel Church, Wednesday night