Peaks and valleys for Pro Musica Rara

November 22, 1994|By David Donovan | David Donovan,Special to The Sun

Pro Musica Rara opened its 20th season at the Baltimore Museum of Art Sunday afternoon with the "Steps to Parnassus." Parnassus is the mountain in Greece associated with Apollo; unfortunately, Pro Musica Rara was not always at the peak.

The collection of solo sonatas, trio sonatas, and solo suite were all masterworks, but the musical results were a little uneven.

The program opened with the first of the "Mystery" sonatas of Heinrich Ignaz von Biber. Violinist Cynthia Roberts played with sensitivity and gave the music its melancholic flavor.

The Aria with Variations was especially rewarding.

"Vivaldi Flute Sonata Opus 8a, No. 6" was then presented, with Sara Landgren as flute soloist. It was a warm rendition, but when Ms. Landgren's technique was pushed to its outer limits the beauty of sound suffered.

The "Sonata No. 4 in C minor for Clavier and Violin" by Johann Sebastian Bach was a major disappointment. The music was played too mechanically. The harpsichord was too loud and it felt like two separate performances rather than one unified conception.

The "Suite No. 1 in E minor" of Boismortier is a charming work, and Ms. Landgren again was sensitive but a little stiff, especially the dotted rhythms. This listener could have used a little more variety of ornamentation.

Allen Whear gave the "Geminiani Sonata for Violoncello" a wonderful sense of freedom. The four-movement work has a wealth of inventive material and Mr. Whear's sound was almost always rich and clear.

The final work on the program, the Handel "Trio Sonata in B minor, Opus 2, No. 1" may have been the most secure of the afternoon. The interplay between flute and violin was enchanting, and the basso continuo was a supporting but active partner.

Twenty years ago, this would have been an outstanding Baroque concert. Today, their are numerous recordings by early music experts and a legion of original instrument groups; it is not enough to just play the original instruments.

"Parnassus" should be the goal no matter what type of instrument is played, and this program was not up to the level expected from Pro Musica Rara.

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