A few decades ago, when the historical authenticity movement began sweeping the music world, it was common to hear complaints about how out-of-tune or just plain out-of-sorts performances on original instruments tended to sound. Not everyone who embraced the switch to gut strings or wooden flutes or valveless trumpets was up to the challenges involved. Embracing the past could be a lot easier in spirit than in reality.
But today, virtuoso early-music groups are plentiful. Many musicians have successfully made the transition from modern to ancient. Based on what I've heard so far during its 26th season, Pro Musica Rara needs to find more of them.
The ensemble, devoted to performing 17th- and 18th-century works on period instruments, presented its latest concert Sunday at the Baltimore Museum of Art. The afternoon contained a variety of baroque repertoire, but unfortunately, a variety of technical skills as well.
There were rewards, nonetheless. (I caught all but the first two pieces of the concert.)
A charming little violin sonata by Jean-Marie Leclair showcased violinist Greg Mulligan, who danced nimbly through the fast movements and shaped the slow ones elegantly. Though some of his notes could have been more firmly centered on pitch, he and his partners - Doug McNames on the violoncello and Amy Rosser at the harpsichord - delivered a tight, lively, stylish performance.
McNames had some articulation and intonation slips in an intermittently interesting sonata by Jean-Batiste Masse, but there was an expressive flair to his efforts.
And in an obscure Oboe Quartet by Handel, rich in brilliant melodic invention, Mulligan, McNames, Rosser and violinist Julie Parcells held up their part of the assignment with generally accurate playing and propulsive tempos.
Oboist Sarah Weiner was another story. Her command of the instrument was simply insufficient. At least the Handel work provided some cover for her. In an oboe sonata by Giuseppe Sammartini, there was no room to hide; her struggle to produce solid tones and connected phrases became a serious distraction and a sad case of anti-musica rara.