Concert Review: Chatham Baroque's performance fantastic

December 19, 2011
by Andrew Druckenbrod, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
There's fantastic playing and there's phantastic playing. Chatham Baroque offered both Saturday evening at Synod Hall.

Stylus Phantasticus is a lesser-known style of the baroque period. Whereas Bach, Handel and Telemann wrote music of complexity and order, composers such as Johann Schmelzer and Heinrich Biber advanced works of excitement and edge.

This was virtuosic music that, well, jammed. It was proto-rock as much as proto-Paganini, if you pardon an anachronistic comparison. It was music best played by someone more Jimi Hendrix than Andre Segovia, and Chatham Baroque's violinist Andrew Fouts fits that perfectly.

In a sonata by Biber, Mr. Fouts erupted in bouts of virtuosic intensity; his convex bow flying across the strings. Standing on the balls of his feet, he tore into the long solos with electric playing. No background music, this, although he was equally compelling in phrasing quiet and sweet melodies. If you adore violin playing and haven't yet heard Mr. Fouts, run, don't walk, to the next Chatham Baroque performance.

His was a performance that typified a concert that was anything but the same old holiday fare. Joined by a number of additional musicians (Chatham Baroque is a trio, with Patricia Halverson, da gamba, and Scott Pauley, theorbo and baroque guitar), the ensemble began with a darling, eclectic Serenata by Schmelzer that opened with a serenade, made a side trip to a mischievous "Erlicino," and passed through a jaunty ciaccona to finish with a lament. Even if you are not familiar with these terms, you can tell this madcap collection has not the stately manner of a Bach suite.

The entire ensemble, which dedicated the concert to its late, passionately dedicated former member Emily Norman Davidson, was in top form as it performed works by Dietrich Buxtehude, Georg Muffat and Michael Praetorius ("In Dulci Jubilo" connected to a folkish "Bransle de Village") with organist Adam Pearl acting as the drone.

In all, fun and phantastic.

Andrew Druckenbrod:; 412-263-1750. Blog: Twitter: @druckenbrod

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