Monday, September 28, 2009

Music review: Dutch group gets Delray Baroque off to vigorous start

From left: Daja Leevke Hinrichs, Emily Thompson,
Marc Dupere and Marcin Swiatkiewicz.

By Greg Stepanich

It's useful to remember that no matter how far we've come from the Baroque era, good music of whatever age will engage interested young performers and be reborn anew.

The time to really notice that Saturday night was in the ensemble selections of a concert by the Netherlands-based Haagsche Hofmuzieck, a young trio (joined by a guest violinist to make a foursome) that opened the first-ever Delray Baroque mini-festival at St. Paul's Episcopal Church.

In the third Water Music suite (HWV 350, in G) of Handel, you could hear the wit and insouciance of this fine little band throughout, as the harpsichord would play with plucked-cello accompaniment at one point, to be followed directly thereafter by the Baroque flute and the violin playing pizzicato, for a completely different, utterly refreshing color.

By now this familiar music has been arranged for any instrumental combination you can think of, but what matters is the attractive, direct quality of the music itself, and Haagsche Hofmuzieck stayed completely true to it while offering its own arrangement.

Further evidence of this quartet's scholarly-yet-engaged manner came in two other ensemble pieces that used the full quartet: a trio sonata (in D, Op. 13, No. 2), by the French violinist and composer Jean-Marie Leclair, and one of the Paris sonatas (in E minor) of the eminent German composer and Bach contemporary Georg Philipp Telemann. Neither of these works was written for the Haagsche combination -- flutist Daja Leevke Hinrichs, violinist Emily Thompson, cellist Marc Dupere and harpsichordist Marcin Swiatkiewicz -- but there was nothing inauthentic about these vigorous performances.

The Leclair sonata, which opened the second half of the concert, was particularly charming, full of delightful tunes and real humor; the second movement, with its repeated notes in the main theme like an invitation to a country dance, and the catchy melody of the finale causing more than one head in the rather large audience at the church to bob along in time.

Ensemble was quite good throughout the evening, especially in the faster movements, and there the audience could get a good sense of the considerable chops that each player has. This was evident in the Telemann sonata that closed the formal program, which had a recurring little motif in thirds that sounded as though it was overstaying its welcome on the beat in the fifth movement, titled Distrait.

But it was precise and sharply played, and in the finale, the extra liberties taken by Swiatkewicz's rolling-thunder harpsichord approach helped build the music to a point of real grandeur and power that was quite unlike anything else on the program.

Solo performances also were part of Saturday's concert, including a solo cello Ricercar (in D) by Domenico Gabrielli that Dupere played with the requisite virtuoso elan to take advantage of the increasingly difficult reiterations of the opening material. Swiatkiewicz played a four-part suite by Henry Purcell (in G minor) with a closing chaconne added, and demonstrated a sensitive hand that had the right somber elegance for the sarabande movement, as well as plenty of muscle for Purcell's big melodies in the opening prelude.

Violinist Thompson also took a solo turn with a passacaglia from one of the so-called Mystery Sonatas of Heinrich Biber, also in G minor. This is a quietly blossoming piece that begins with near-immobility before expanding into something more elaborate. Biber's music doesn't have the range of something like a Bach violin partita, and Thompson had to focus instead not on the interest of the music, which was slight, but on its intensity. That worked, actually, and in that sense successfully communicated the religious intention of its composer.

But the best moments of the concert came when all four players were working together on something, and you could enjoy their tight ensemble and clear joy in making music. For an encore, the group played an arrangement of the Badinerie movement from Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 2 (in B minor, BWV 1067), which put Hinrichs in the spotlight.

She has a lovely sound and an admirable ability to get a full sound most of the time out of her Baroque flute; too often these pretty-but-soft instruments get lost in the continuo uproar. But not here: Hinrichs showed good technique, played this popular piece briskly, and her companions were with her every athletic step of the way.

Delray Baroque continues Sunday at 4 p.m. when concert organizer Keith Paulson-Thorp, St. Paul's music director, plays a solo concert of harpischord music, including Handel's The Harmonious Blacksmith, a suite by C.P.E. Bach, and sonatas by Pietro Paradies and Franz Joseph Haydn. Other, more recent music gets a hearing, too, including a sonatina by Ferruccio Busoni, excerpts from Sir Herbert Howells' Lambert's Clavichord, and Tango for Tim, by the contemporary British composer Michael Nyman. 4 pm, St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Delray Beach. Tickets: $15-18, $5 for students. Call 278-6003 or visit

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