11 September 2011

Predating subways

I noticed another night at the Village Vanguard that good acoustics are no match for passing subway trains. Artek had to deal with both subways and the buzz of passing traffic but they were a delight despite this urban bugbear. Artek are a baroque music ensemble formed by keyboardist Gwendolyn Toth and dubbed “the art of the Early Keyboard”. They have toured internationally, recorded and performed at many renowned venues, including the local Lincoln Center in 2010. We heard them at the Immanuel Lutheran Church for one of its midday, Midtown concerts, and it was delightful.

They played six pieces of virtuoso violin music. Everyone would recognise Pachelbel’s ubiquitous Canon. The other pieces were by Uccellini, Marini, Schmelzer, Rosenmuller. This is a music of shared melody, as lines pass between violins, and often to the viola da gamba, or are mirrored on the harpsichord or theorbo. Now that was new to me: I had never heard this instrument live or seen it up close. It’s a many-stringed instrument, part-harp and part-lute, and sounding somewhat like an early nylon-strung guitar. This is also music of counterpoint and figured bass, where the bass line is improvised on annotations suggesting extensions (eg, 7 6 or 6 may be written over a passage). The music is written for 4 parts, essentially strings (three violins/violas and viola da gamba), the theorbo improvised its part and the harpsichord does the lot as it wishes. That’s a thought to warm the cockles of a jazz follower. The group had trouble with tuning these gut strung on older instruments on a day of rain and humidity, but this was music of courtly decorum, dignified presentation and interesting melodic conversation played by some very capable players. We’ve been surprised by the small choice of fine music on offer here in NYC, but this was delightful.

Artek are Gwendolyn Toth (harpsichord), Theresa Saloman (baroque violin/viola), Vita Wallace (baroque violin), Marka Young (baroque violin), Motomi Igarashi (viola da gamba) and Daniel Swertberg (theorbo) and they performed for the first Midtown concert of this year’s series at the Immanuel Lutheran Church on Lexington Ave, NYC.

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