Chatham Baroque's 'Jefferson's Library': fascinating program, exquisite performance

Joined by harpsichordist Andrew Appel and soprano Laura Heimes, Chatham Baroque played music beloved by Thomas Jefferson
February 11, 2013
by Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

It's a shame that the established portrayal of Thomas Jefferson does not emphasize one of his greatest passions: music. Perhaps that should be a way to frame the battle against the continued de-emphasis and often dismissal of music education in American school districts. A founding father of America loved classical music, folk tunes and music education!

Even as a young man he apparently found time to practiced the violin for hours each day, and he wooed his wife with it (and gave her a fortepiano as a wedding present). It shouldn't be that you have to see "1776" (although you should see the musical in its current run at the O'Reilly Theater) to find out that one of the most respected of U.S. presidents placed music on the level of architecture, science, gardening, education and writing.

Kudos then to Chatham Baroque for shedding light on Jefferson's love for music with a performance titled "Jefferson's Library."

Saturday night at Synod Hall in Oakland, the local trio specializing in performance on historically accurate instruments presented an ingenious way of elucidating this: performing music that Jefferson held in his library at Monticello. While he didn't compose any of the music, he likely played much of it.

The program was fascinating and its execution exquisite. The Chatham Baroque three were joined by harpsichordist Andrew Appel and soprano Laura Heimes for works by Corelli, Vivaldi, Handel, Purcell and more. Although the representation here showed a predilection for Baroque music that was a bit conservative for the time, it showed Jefferson had excellent taste, partially acquired in his time in France as the U.S. minister. Masterworks by some of music's biggest names were represented.

The concert opened with a wonderful Sonata by Corelli, his Op. 5, No. 5. This is essentially a violin sonata and Chatham Baroque's Andrew Fouts spun the violin lines like a fine thread. It was neat to imagine the late President playing these works in a salon, although it is difficult to think he could perform as well. Mr. Fouts is playing at such a high level these days. In this work and others on the program by Schobert and Vivaldi, he displayed a mastery of the subtle art of musical weight. He would ever so slightly press the bow down in key areas of dissonance and nearly lift it off the strings in the light sections. His phrasing came in surges and his improvisation was so natural. Yet all his playing pulsed with a tinge of electricity.

By nature the other performers' instruments can't match that spark, but Patricia Halverson's viola da gamba runs were clean and substantive and Mr. Appel and Scott Pauley's continuo top notch. Mr. Pauley is such a versatile performer, and in this concert he brought out a guittar, a mandolin-like instrument mostly played by young ladies in London and other English cities at the time.

Ms. Heimes unleashed her pure and buoyant voice in a multitude of styles, from opera arias by Handel to airs of Purcell to Scots songs, including two arranged by Joseph Haydn. Sometimes her diction was not as precise and decisive as it could be, but her understanding of how this music must soar and the how the sound must bloom was a marvel to hear.

Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod: adruckenbrod@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1750. He blogs at www.post-gazette.com/classicalmusings.

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