Concert Review: Baroque Band’s “Hell’s Angels: Masters of the Violin”

The Baroque Band, founded in 2007 by British Baroque violinist Garry Clarke, is Chicago’s critically acclaimed period instrument orchestra. Contrapuntist and I attended one of their concerts for the first time this past Saturday, October 9. After hearing their performance, we now know what the buzz is about. The band’s 14 musicians breathe energy into every note they play. Concertmaster/conductor Garry Clarke leads the orchestra with his entire body through ebullient knee-bends, fervent single-armed thrusts and delicate finger wiggles. The violinists and violists stand throughout the performance, allowing more freedom for expressive body movement.

The central theme of this concert was “Hell’s Angels”. The program featured a mixture of famous and lesser-known Italian composers, some of whom supposedly played like the devil or had even met Lucifer himself. Each piece was performed with impeccably shaped phrases and historically accurate articulation. The period instruments blended beautifully in the string-friendly Music Institute of Chicago Nichols Concert Hall. Unfortunately, despite the fall heat wave, the air-conditioning was not turned on. As a result, the musicians struggled to keep their instruments in tune throughout the program.

The first half of the concert included works by Tomaso Albinoni, Benedetto Marcello, Alessandro Scarlatti, and Giuseppe Torelli. One highlight was a sprightly rendition of the Presto movement from Benedetto Marcello’s Sinfonia to Il pianto e il riso delle Quattro Stagioni (The Weeping and Laughter of the Four Seasons). The movement had an uplifting, dance-like feel in the style of a Gigue.

The second half of the concert included pieces by Tomaso Albinoni, Pietro Locatelli, Alessandro Tartini, and Arcangelo Corelli. Clarke’s own arrangement of Alessandro Tartini’s String Concerto in G minor (after Violin Sonata in G minor – Didone Abbandonata) featured terrific interplay between the soloists from the concertina group. The concert concluded with the Concerto Grosso Op. 6, No. 11 in D Major by Arcangelo Corelli. During the Allegro movement, Cellist Craig Trompeter conquered virtuosic 16th note runs which were so speedy that I could just about see the smoke coming off of his cello.

Hell’s Angels kicked off the Baroque Band’s 2010-2011 season, with many concerts yet to come. For more details, please go to www.baroqueband.org.

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