Early Music Festival

Treble and More Treble for La Ménéstrandise

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

The Washington Early Music Festival continued on Monday night with a concert by La Ménéstrandise at Christ Church on Capitol Hill. In keeping with this year's theme, the German baroque, the local chamber ensemble of oboe, violin, string bass and harpsichord presented a program of trio sonatas spanning the 17th and early 18th centuries. The geographic range of composers was helpfully pinpointed on a map of the German states.

The trio sonata spotlights the baroque emphasis on treble sounds by pairing twin parts for high instruments in opposition to a bass line. The genre is most effective if the treble instruments are the same, rather than unmatched. David Brundage's bright oboe timbre tended to dominate the more timid violin of Julianna Chitwood, and Brundage's recorder, used once, also blended into the background. The selections were examples of rather quotidian functional music, played in a mostly competent but somewhat cautious and polite way. The composers were both famous, such as Telemann, Handel and Pachelbel, and obscure, such as Rosenmüller, Fasch, Fux and Brünnemüller.

Sustaining the bass line on the more cumbersome string bass meant that faster running passages were less clean, causing tuning issues with the harpsichord. There were deviations from the trio sonata theme, too, with consequences both good and bad. The "Combat Between David and Goliath," Johann Kuhnau's first Biblical Sonata, was a welcome discovery, especially as performed by harpsichordist Vera Kochanowsky. Playing the gigue from Bach's third suite for unaccompanied cello on the string bass, however, proved as bad an idea in practice as it was in theory.

-- Charles T. Downey

The Washington Early Music Festival continues through June 28; seehttp://www.earlymusicdc.orgfor a complete schedule.

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