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The best of Baroque and Beaumont

Tuesday evening marked the fourth of this year’s Baroque concert series, one traditionally performed in front of the magnificent high altar (1758-61) of Ernen’s parish church of St. Georg.

The setting is always impressive, but under the seasoned and superb direction of Deirdre Dowling and Ada Pesch, the configuration of players made an equally impressive line-up, their repertoire alternating between works that were startlingly refreshing and more contemplative or lyrical. First violinist Bojan Cicic’s virtuoso playing in a sonata by Giovanni Stefano Carbonelli was particularly stunning. But the evening’s most exhilarating moments were those shared with the Maite Beaumont, the Spanish mezzo-soprano who delighted the audience here in Ernen last year, and came back again to give a categorically brilliant performance.

Granted, the evening began modestly; it took a moment for the first group of five players to find its footing. In Antonio Lotti’s sonata for two oboe, bassoon, and continuo, the musicians’ attacks and endings were entirely spot on, but the bassoon was a little wobbly at the start, and the Adagio’s pacing, a tad too listless and sleepy for my taste. Over time, the group’s finesse showed itself handsomely, however, and the hair’s pause before the last collective chord made a highly effective finish.

Maite Beaumont made her first appearance with three arias drawn from Domenico Scarlatti’s opera, «Amor d’un ombra e gelosia d’un aura,» she drew on the full gamut of vocal possibilities, and her mastery of transitions from her high to middle voice was remarkable. She used her hands to underscore a wealth of emotions, particularly in the «Vieni, o cara»—my favorite aria among the three—making it a piece that pulled ever harder on the heart strings. And after the superb instrumental Carbonelli, she came back to show her agility with a whole gamut of dramatic effects. What’s more, in Domenico Natale Sarro’s «Barbara gelosia fuggi dall’alma mia,» Beaumont became one categorically furious persona, ripping into the rival of whom she was jealous, then, in turn, seeming to mourn a tremendous loss. In these moments, the lute and harp underscored the sweet memories, the striking strings, her fire and fury.

In Ernen, the concert interval is always a chance to marvel at the surrounding alpine landscape and spread of the rich Rhone valley below. But back in the church, the second half of the program was no less riveting. Mike Fentross, the configuration’s gifted theorbo, baroque guitar, and vihuela player, took the time to explain the latter, that relatively unknown six double-stringed instrument that enjoyed popularity in 15th and 16th Spain, Portugal, and Italy. In two short pieces by Luis de Milán, the plaintive «Fantasia» and spirited «Pavana» gave us real dialogue between instrument and player: Fentross’s body movements and facial expressions reflected the score, and his smile, infectious. 

In a trio of three movements by Joan Baptista Pla, I particularly liked the varying moods set by the two oboes, whose soft touch at the end came like a light embrace. But the real show-stopper in the evening’s program was Maite Beaumont’s superb execution of three arias by José de Nebra. Indeed, it was as if the music— 18th-century though it is—was written for her voice, and she showed herself completely at home in its expression. The moods the three songs demanded ranged from turbulent to the tell-tale and narrative, from coquettish to pleading. Nevertheless, she made each one as clear as a bell, performing throughout with the full support of the players’ fully engaged and perfectly-modulated orchestration. I don’t know the Baroque to be any better.

Ernen, Wednesday, 25 July 2018, by Sarah Batschelet