Pro Musica Rara puts on a well-paced and lyrical program

November 11, 1991|By Robert Haskins

J. S. Bach's first harpsichord concerto in D Minor (BWV 1052), the largest and most imposing of his concertos for that instrument, inaugurated the genre of the keyboard concerto. The work served as the focal point of an attractive concert by Pro Musica Rara, Baltimore's early music ensemble, yesterday afternoon at the Cathedral of the Incarnation.

Bach made each of his harpsichord concertos as part of performances with the Leipzig Collegium Musicum, which he directed during most of his final years in that city. Yesterday's program provided an idea of the kind of music a typical Collegium performance might contain.

Harpsichord soloist (and Pro Musica artistic director) Shirley Mathews and an ensemble of five strings gave the concerto a stately and sober reading, one rather refreshing after hearing more rapid-fire performances by other early music groups. Ms. Mathews' strong points as a performer -- a superb sense of timing, ornamentation intricate but never fussy, and a sense of rhythm at once pliant and highly expressive -- were all in place. Her ingenious pacing of the short cadenzas in first two movements of the concerto and her exultation in the virtuosity of its finale were especially appealing.

No less exciting was the presence of guest artist Stephen Hammer, principal oboist with the Smithsonian Chamber Orchestra, who performed chamber works by Handel and Vivaldi. Possessing a vibrant singing tone, amiable dexterity and a virtuoso's panache, Mr. Hammer was particularly exciting in his performance of a Vivaldi C Minor Sonata.

The final work on the program, J.S. Bach's Cantata No. 87 ("Ich Habe Genug") is a lyrical, rather mysterious meditation on death that shows Bach's special gifts for vocal music quite powerfully. For this performance, Mr. Hammer, Ms. Mathews and the string ensemble were joined by baritone Randal Woodfield. Together, they delivered a handsome performance.

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