Chatham Baroque ready for rediscovery

February 22, 2010
by Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

A year may be a blink of an eye for a group that performs music written 400 years ago, but the last two have been crucial to Chatham Baroque. In 2008, it bid farewell to its longtime lead violinist Julie Andrijeski and then hired baroque violinist Andrew Fouts in her place. Mr. Fouts arrived high on accolades but short on professional experience, although his vivacious personality created good chemistry from the beginning.

With a season and a half of music-making and programming behind them, it's clear the period ensemble, with Patricia Halverson (viola da gamba) and Scott Pauley (theorbo, lute and baroque guitar), made the right choice. At a concert Saturday night in Synod Hall in Oakland, Mr. Fouts was the leader, both as concertmaster and as master of ceremonies. The ensemble, augmented by guest instrumentalists and singers, closely watched him for its musical cues and spirit, and he delivered with a charged style that brought energy even to a lamentable program. That is, a program filled with the melancholy and moving musical genre of the baroque known as the lament, and similar music of mourning.

The first half was a tour de force, with selection after selection of heart-wrenching dissonances, aching harmonies and sorrowful music by Marini, Pergolesi, Biber, Schmelzer and Johann Christoph Bach. If you like requiems, you will love laments, and Mr. Fouts had the expanded ensemble (violinist Johanna Novom, violist Kristen Linfante, organist Alan Lewis) emphasizing every bittersweet phrase and minor-mode color. In fact, he lingered on more than a few dissonant suspensions, lending the sort of sprinkling of sensationalism that baroque music needs to shine (and that was lacking in the early days of the period music movement). Mr. Fouts brought an immediacy to the music that helped it transcend its age.

But the musical cohesion was actually a backdrop, or a partner, for most of the program. Singers Abigail Haynes-Lennox and Ian Howell provided the centerpiece for the several works, including the lament extraordinare, Giovanni Battista Pergolesi's "Stabat Mater," a setting of the meditation on the Virgin Mary's suffering at the cross.

In this Chopin and Schumann year, the 300th anniversary of Pergolesi's birth is bound to get lost. But in his short life (he died at age 26 in 1736), the Italian composer managed both to write some of the most soulfully baroque music and herald the classical epoch in works such as "La Serva Padrona." The former were on display at Synod, with Ms. Haynes-Lennox singing his "Salve Regina" and Mr. Howell joining her for "Stabat Mater."

Pound for pound, you aren't going to find a better ensemble in Pittsburgh than Chatham Baroque, and with a repertoire rich for rediscovery for most music-lovers, we might very well be seeing, and hearing, a renaissance of this local baroque gem.

Andrew Druckenbrod: adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com . or 412-263-1750. Blog: Classical Musings at post-gazette.com/music.

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