Review by Barry Plaxen
SHANDELEE, NY (August 10, 2011) – On Tuesday evening, August 9, one hundred and fifty people from all over the area braved sporadic downpours and drove up Shandelee Road out of Livingston Manor or Youngsville to witness six people make miraculous magic at the sold-out-full-house second concert of the 2011 Shandelee Music Festival.
The Program was called “Arceci – McKean & Friends” and was an “An Evening of Early Music.” The “early” refers not to Middle Ages or Renaissance music, but to Baroque. The ensemble was Andrew Arceci (photo left) viola da gamba; John McKean, harpsichord; Elizabeth Hungerford, soprano; Johanna Novom, baroque violin; Adriane Post, baroque violin and John Armaro, theorbo.
The first half of the program offered French music: three songs by Michel Lambert (1610-1696) and instrumental music by Gaspard Le Roux (c.1660-c.1707) and Antoine Forqueray (1671-1745). I suspect none of the music, or the composers themselves, were familiar to most, if not all, of the audience, and the musicians spoke about the music with that assumption. Once again, as with other Sullivan County concert ensembles and prior Shandelee concerts, classical music lovers in this area are rewarded with an incredible and bountiful variety of the genre. These French pieces are rarely, if ever, heard and were performed with perfection by the world-class ensemble. A real treat.
The second half of the program was devoted to well-known Italian composers: Florence-born Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687), Monteverdi (1576-1643), Corelli (1653-1713) and Vivaldi (16780-1741), with both vocal and instrument selections. The exception – the next to last piece, a dramatic song composed by unknown-today-composer Tarquino Merlua (1594-1665), is perhaps a forerunner of the “dramatic cantata.” It is a lullaby sung by the Virgin Mary to baby Jesus while she “foresees” his future crucifixion. It was caressingly and dramatically sung by Elizabeth Hungerford, and was the highlight of the evening for me.
Hungerford lists herself as a soprano, and her range might be exactly that, but her remarkable voice had an alto quality, actually a counter-tenor quality, perfect for early baroque music. All the songs she sang might have been originally sung by castrati, and her voice’s timbre and the stylistic instrumental playing on period instruments made me feel it was 1650, and I was listening to music as it was sung (and played) back then, with just about no vibrato, but a with a smooth sweetness that would eventually lead to vibrato being the norm in later years. Hungerford might probably be perfectly cast in baroque opera as she was extremely expressive musically, with the words clearly enunciated and with the dramatic and humorous expressions in the words and music communicated with light, medium and deep emotions, depending on what the song called for.
Throughout the evening, baroque violinists Johanna Novom and Adriane Post performed most of the music’s melodies as one entity, even when they were playing different melodies and different rhythms at the same time. Not only did they have a remarkable rapport with each other, but all six performers had that rapport 100% of the time. I guess that is part of what world class means.
One sad item – Sometimes I could not hear the theorbo (bass lute) over the viola da gamba and violins. But when I could, I appreciated John Armato’s “holding up the rear,” so to speak. He and Messrs. Arceci and McKean (photo left), three highly accomplished musicians, also communicated a deep understanding of, and appreciation and love for the music that, with their wonderful skills and talent, had the rapt audience wrapped around their fingers, baroque-violin bows, gut strings and harpsichord plectras (plectri?).
It was a magical evening of music rarely heard live, exquisitely performed, and one could tell the performance strongly affected everyone present by the electricity you could feel in the lobby after it was over.
The parking staff at Shandelee are to be congratulated for their handling of the weather situation. Of course the Festival people have been doing this for years, so know how to arrange it all in such cases, but this year‘s staff needs to recognized for their helpful and caring attention to the attendees.
The Shandelee festival continues with concerts on August 11 (sold out), 13 (sold out), 18 and 20. Find out more at www.shandelee.org or 845-439-3277. Don’t miss those last two solo piano recitals.