Experimental music--of 1700s --opens Pro Musica Rara season

October 22, 1990|By Robert Haskins

Music by four composers active during the 1760s and 1770s -- a time of fertile experimentation separating the fully formed masterpieces of the High Baroque and those of the Classical eras -- was the bill of fare for Pro Musica Rara's performance yesterday at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

For this opening concert of its 16th season, Pro Musica's forces were augmented by the early music violin performance expert Stanley Ritchie. Mr. Ritchie led the ensemble in symphonies by William Boyce (number III in C major) and Johann Christian Bach (Opus 6/III, in E-flat major), and also performed Mozart's Violin Concerto in D major, K. 278.

As in the case of any art in transition, the range of musical styles was quite diverse. The Boyce, from a set of six symphonies published in 1760, owes a debt to the music of George Frideric Handel, particularly in its lean textures and harmonic style. The J. C. Bach symphony, by contrast, exploits the dramatic effect of opposing tonal areas, and is one of the classical style's earliest, most exultant utterances.

In each work, Pro Musica Rara magnificently effected the shifting of musical gears between each style. From the wistful minuet that closed the Boyce to the visceral, kinetic outer movements of the J. C. Bach, the ensemble demonstrated good control of phrasing, rhythmic articulation and the projection of a unique character for each piece on the program.

Mr. Ritchie's performance of the Mozart concerto (composed while Mozart was still in his teens and exploring the possibilities of J. C. Bach's new harmonic style) was competent and well-considered. Though he had some lapses of phrasing and intonation in the first two movements, Mr. Ritchie triumphed in the puckish finale, a rondo made of sections in alternately moderate and fast tempos.

Also on the program was the Harpsichord Concerto in F major by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, performed by harpsichordist Amy Rosser. C. P. E. Bach's music, with its abrupt changes of texture and mood, is some of the most neglected and wonderfully bizarre music of all time -- and a real challenge to perform convincingly. Ms. Rosser rose to the challenge admirably, particularly in her handling of rubato and ornamentation in the concerto's slow movement and in selected passages of its rapid, impetuous finale.

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