WASHINGTON EARLY MUSIC FESTIVAL

Alexandra MacCracken, the founder and director of Ensemble Gaudior.
Alexandra MacCracken, the founder and director of Ensemble Gaudior. (Ensemble Gaudior)
Saturday, June 28, 2008

'Friends of Fasch'

Officially, "From Hildegard to Bach" was the thematic parameter for this year's Washington Early Music Festival. The two-week event, with a focus on German music, concludes today with two concerts at St. Mark's Episcopal Church on Capitol Hill. Yesterday afternoon, seven local musicians took the liberty of presenting a program of sonatas by Fasch and Telemann, composers who outlived Bach by a decade or two.

It was altogether pleasant stuff, but not the sort of program that left listeners thinking, "Wow, I loved the Allegro in that third piece." The music is just too homogenous, with one sonata rolling into another. If Bach was an innovator, Telemann and Fasch were interpreters. Telemann, especially, prided himself on bringing the musical conventions of France, Poland and Italy to the German provinces.

Yesterday's concert by so-called "Friends of Fasch" featured three sonatas by each composer. Most were arranged for five musicians. On harpsichord, director Thomas MacCracken played crisp and clear continuo. The strings were strong. As for the wind musicians -- well, baroque horns and oboes are an acquired taste. When the intonation is sub-par, a strangled goose occasionally comes to mind.

Thankfully, the concert included a lovely Telemann sonata for flute, violin, viola da gamba, cello and harpsichord. MacCracken also partnered with Caroline Kang, a promising young cellist, on Telemann's Sonata in D. Bach's cello suites may be iconic, but Kang's sincere, nuanced performance proved that when it comes to the German baroque, there's no shame in second best.

-- Rebecca J. Ritzel

Ensemble Gaudior

Even before the ever-burning suns of Beethoven and Mozart, Schubert and Brahms, the city of Vienna and elsewhere in Austria were fertile ground for composers. The Ensemble Gaudior offered that reminder with its Thursday evening concert at St. Mark's Episcopal Church, part of the Washington Early Music Festival. The evening illuminated the pleasantries of each baroque work, while also highlighting all the developments needed to bring about the sonic profundities of those latter-day greats.

The ensemble, a locally based period instrument group comprising on this night violinist Alexandra MacCracken, harpsichordist Elena Tsai and Daniel Rippe on the viola da gamba, gave pride of place to the music of Heinrich Biber. Whether in the "Rosary" Sonata No. 9, Sonata Terza in F and, obviously, the Passacaglia in G Minor for solo violin, Biber assigns the most interesting parts to the violin. The rolling arpeggios of the harpsichord or the warm repetitions of the bass viola provided a gentle wash of sounds for the violin's vigor and effusion. MacCracken used her gorgeous Jacob Stainer violin to solid effect, helping bring color and shape to each score.

Tsai did nice work in several pieces by Johann Froberger, though here musical forms like toccata and ricercar came off as much as a limiter as a helpful framework for liberating exploration. There was also an occasional tentativeness in the ensemble work in sonatas of Georg Muffat and Johann Schmelzer.

-- Daniel Ginsberg


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