Georgetown Bach Chorale (GBC) had a packed house at Georgetown’s Knox Presbyterian Church on Saturday night for their concert of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and choral works. All the pews were tightly filled, more chairs had to be brought in and there was the real possibility that people without tickets would be turned away.
The program was a great mix of instrumental and choral performances of Vivaldi’s little-known works and his hugely popular Four Seasons. GBC is clever in performing challenging baroque pieces but framing them to be accessible to an audience of mixed musical knowledge. There was something for everyone in this program, works that many had never heard before, as well as those that had people nodding their heads in pleased recognition. You don’t have to have an education in music to enjoy their concerts.
GBC’s director Ron Greidanus is also good at turning what could be a stuffy, intimidating evening into a treat that everyone can enjoy. His introductions to each piece give some background and context while encouraging the audience to relax and listen for key elements. This lightly educational approach bridges the gap for people with little musical knowledge.
The concert began with The Kingsway Strings, a group of child violinists, performing from Vivaldi’s “Don Quixote” for strings. This group is part of The Kingsway Conservatory of Music in Toronto.
Wonderful but unfamiliar sacred choral pieces were sung by the choir, and are lovely enough to deserve to become better known. The already small chorale was divided into two choirs for the antiphonal pieces, a demanding challenge for a small amateur choir. The result is highly exposed voices that need to be confident and knowledgeable of their parts. This choir was, and produced fine echo effects with both sides of equal strength. There were pieces with solos for women featuring long baroque rills that are by no means easy, but were beautifully handled.
The Four Seasons were performed by the small orchestra of period instruments, with a different violinist leading each concerto. This was an interesting demonstration of the uniqueness of each lead’s style. The most popular lead violinist was Edwin Huizinga, whose large frame and long reddish hair helped convey the drama of Summer. He played with great contrast between the slow, quiet parts and the fast, loud parts, making for an exciting performance.
Through all the pieces was the beautiful uniqe sound of the harpsichord played by Greidanus. It is such a distinctive sound that immediately conveys the time of high courts and long dresses.
The one negative of the night was the frequent and extensive tuning. This caused grumblings in the audience until it was explained that period stringed instruments are delicate and quickly go out of tune. With the enormous amount and variety of bowing needed for Vivaldi’s works, it is understandable that strings will stretch. Audiences in the baroque period (1600-1750) had more patience or fewer distractions than we do today, who can demand instant entertainment at the touch of a button. By the end, annoyance was forgotten as the audience leaped to its feet for a long standing ovation. Familiar music or not, they liked what they heard.
GBC’s next concert is a “Concerto Auction” on May 8 in Georgetown.
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