The Sherman Ensemble: Baroque Dexterity

by Kevin T McEneaney

The Sherman Ensemble performed their annual Baroque music concert last Sunday at St. Andrew’s Church in Kent, CT. Their selection of music from that period included rarely performed works. One of the pleasing aspects of Baroque music is that it often provides the audience with easily identified themes.

They opened with Suite in C Major, BMV 1066 by J.S. Bach written about 1724 in Leipzig, yet not published until 1853. The opening movement featured an Overture, a form developed by Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-87) which features stately dotted rhythms that usually conclude with a fugue. This composition about dances was influenced by the Italian composer Agostino Steffani as well as a cousin, organist Johann Bernard Bach. This work was arranged by Bach expert Evan Shinners who played piano mostly in the lower register.

The courante is lively with a mood of anticipation. The gavotte, an old Celtic dance preserved in France, is a line or circle dance with uplifted steps usually in duple time, yet its pace may vary from slow to fast; here the pace was lively. The forlane is a fast Italian courtship dance which may be Slavic in origin. The minuet is a stately, formal, upper-class, French dance performed indoors. The French bourée is a very fast dance in duple time with a dactylic stamp, perhaps originating from grape crushing. The passepied is another French (Breton) courtly dance with fast triple-time and often comic pastoral inflection. This delightful menu of dances was expertly performed with three racing violins in the hands of Michael Roth, Doori Na, and Jane Chung, and Eliot Bailen on cello as Evan Shinners tickled the laughing keyboard. Trio Sonata in C Minor, TWV 42:c2 by Georg Phillip Telemann (1681-1767), who was four years older than Bach, presented a musical allegory of the four seasons beginning with an autumn Largo that celebrated the fruits and plenty of final harvest. In the lively winter-Vivace, Doori Na on violin excelled with undertone backing by Eliot Bailen on cello. The sweet Sping Andante with Jane Chung on violin projected the longing and hope of the season with its blooming flowers. Shinners on piano aptly caught the mellow quality of summer on the keyboard.

Emcee Evan Shinners noted that Concerto a Cinque, Violin Concerto by Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751) caught the attention of Bach and influenced no less than four Bach compositions, due to its toying with slight dissonance. (The five instruments are piano, three violins, and Sarah Adams on viola, but originally written for two oboes and three strings.) In the pastoral Allegro Bailen on cello offered the pleasing ambiance of a nature stroll while Michael Roth on violin in the second movement delivered the lightning thunderclap of a rain shower as supported by Sarah Adams on viola. The concluding Allegro fugue celebrated the return of the sun and pleasant normalcy with the grace of Shinners on the upper register of the piano.

Suite No. 8 from “Banchetto Musicale” by Johann Hermann Schein (1586-1630) from Leipzig followed. (Schein had preceded J.S. Bach at the Leipzig post.) This 1617 piece offered a banquet celebration: the first movement provided a lyrical, hospitable welcome to guests where piano dominated; the second movement chronicled the pouring out of wine to the guests; the third, the serving of appetizers; the fourth, the roasted meat; the concluding fifth, the delicate, delicious dessert. Doori Na on violin presided over joyful eloquence.

For the Flute Concerto in D Minor by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach Susan Rotholz arrived with her flute. The opening Allegro described the joys of a sunny day, yet the next movement (ironically titled “un poco andante”) portrayed a tempest where Susan on flute presided over the fierce winds of the storm. (Shinners mentioned that the flute role was originally written for King Frederick himself to play, although I doubt that the king could play could play as well as Susan!) All three violins supplied exciting drama, especially by Michael Roth. Eliot Bailen on cello delivered substantive echoing resonance.

This delicious concert of about seventy-five minutes presented a banquet of riveting excitement and sound. The arrangements by Evan Shinners were exquisite and the performance by all players left a lingering memory of music connected to the simple joys of everyday life.

Kevin T McEneaney

Author of Hunter S. Thompson: Fear. Loathing, and the Birth of Gonzo