San Francisco Early Music Society, Ensemble Mirable, Las Differencias, SFEMS
The San Francisco Early Music Society's 2012/13 concert season concludes the weekend of April 19 - 21, 2013 in a program of rhythmic, rustic, and always passionate music from the Spanish and Italian Baroque. Ensemble Mirable (JungHae Kim, harpsichord; Elizabeth Blumenstock and Katherine Kyme, violins; Joanna Blendulf, viola da gamba; and Kevin Cooper, baroque guitar) will take audiences on a journey spanning a century and a half, from the first anticipations of the Baroque in the mid-16th century to its final flowering in the era of Antonio Vivaldi.
Based in the Bay Area, Mirable is a period instrument ensemble that originated in 1996 at Indiana University's Early Music Institute where baroque cellist and violist da gamba Joanna Blendulf and harpsichordist JungHae Kim met as students. Together with virtuosi violinists Elizabeth Blumenstock and Katherine Kyme, and baroque guitarist Kevin Cooper, Mirable has devoted itself to exploring the cultural varieties and expressive possibilities of the basso continuo, the distinctive combination of bass and harmony instruments that is the foundation of baroque music. Mirable has built an impressive reputation, earning awards from Early Music America and critical acclaim for its performances throughout the United States. Over the past decade, in addition to live performances, Mirable has been engaged in producing a series of high quality recordings.
The ensemble's program next month, titled ¡Viva las diferencias!, celebrates works by more than a dozen composers, written between about 1550 and the beginning of the 18th century, a time that witnessed a close cultural and political connection between Spain and southern Italy, both parts of the Habsburg Empire. Composers, musical ideas, and instrumental designs, moved freely between these regions.
Mirable's program will feature several brilliant examples of first-generation Italian sonatas by Biagio Marini (1587 - 1663), Giovanni Antonio Pandolfi Mealli (c. 1630 - c. 1669), and Francesco Turini (c. 1595 - 1656).
Much of the concert, however, will focus on works drawn from popular Spanish dances of the day. The music for many of these - the pasacalle, folia, chacona, canarios - existed originally as nothing more than guitar chord sequences to be repeated over and over. Guitarists and players of accompanying melody instruments such as violin or flute would improvise various figures and melodies over these chord changes, giving rise to the name diferencias for sets of variations on a melody or chord sequence. Guitarist Kevin Cooper will play some of the traditional dances in their pure form as transcribed and arranged in the collections of Santiago de Murcia (1673-1739) and Francisco Guerau (1649-1717). The concert will also explore the elaborate compositions and written-out improvisations for accompanying instruments. These sets of variations are hypnotic and joyous, the embellished melodies filled with syncopations and cross-rhythms.
The works of Ortiz (c. 1510 - c. 1570) and de Selma (c. 1595-after 1638) are exemplary for their virtuosic melodies and sets of variations for bass instruments. Ortiz's Tratado de Glosas (1553) was the first tutor published for the newly invented viola da gamba, and its embellished recercadas remain among the most elegant written for the instrument. Joanna Blendulf will play two of these, on the passamezzo antigo and passamezzo moderno. De Selma's instrument was the bajón (aka dulcian or curtal), a forerunner of the modern bassoon, at which he made a living as a virtuoso player at the archducal court at Innsbruck, and for which he wrote some of the instrument's first solo compositions. His 1638 collection contains 2 embellished versions ("passegiato") of Vestiva i colli, Palestrina's famous madrigal based on a Petrarch sonnet. One is a blistering setting for solo bass instrument. The second version ornaments both the soprano and bass lines, so that the two soloists can be heard trading licks and sometimes ornamenting together as they burn through the tune.
Mirable's program concludes with a set of folias written by four different composers over a 90-year period, from 1615 to 1705. They include a "Partite" version by Girolamo Frescobaldi (1583-1643) for solo keyboard; a setting for two violins and continuo by Andrea Falconieri (c. 1585/86-1656), a Neapolitan composer working in the service of Spanish Habsburgs; a version for solo violin and continuo by Giovanni Henrico Albicastro (c. 1660 - c. 1730), a Bavarian Italophile whose real name was Johann Heinrich von Weissenburg; and the famous trio sonata for 2 violins and continuo by Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741).