Jon Ciliberto | 11 OCT 2022
The Atlanta Baroque Orchestra opened its 2022-23 season with a concert in line with its mission, “breathing new life into music all but banished to a museum,” with an energetic and positive performance of three works by composers of the classical era — two well-known to most, and one not. It might be hyperbole to claim that major works by Haydn and Mozart are “all but banished,” but the spirit is accurate: the ABO aims to shake some of the dust off pieces from the Baroque and Classical canon.
Guest conductor Jaap ter Linden, often the group’s lead cellist, led the ensemble before a large audience at the Cathedral of St. Philip in Atlanta, Georgia.
The Symphony in C Major by Marianna Martines (4 May 1744 – 13 December 1812; known as Marianna von Martinez in early references) — also called an “Ouverture” as in the program here — is notably on the surface as a composition by a woman from the period. Her musical history and associations indicate that further exploration is of value.
The work is in three movements. It opens with a spirited theme, with its restatement in minor brief but effectively opening the main mode to other possibilities. To me, the principal theme has a choral quality; Martines was a talented singer and started her own school in Vienna, Austria.
Although the ABO’s performance was agile through the punctuated rhythms of the first movement, the integration of instruments sometimes felt wanting. This, perhaps, was simply due to the large space of St. Philips, including the open space behind the performers.
This sense of integration did noticeably improve during the work’s second movement — perhaps Jaap her Linden adjusted to the performance run — especially as to the two horns’ placement within the sonic landscape. The entire movement was confidently played and very easy on the ears, much like the salon music that the composition seems to strive toward.
The work’s final movement (and the entire piece ran at only around 12 minutes) offered the first real ‘surprise’ (a brief, barely hinted stormy counter theme). While not a work rich with innovation, it served perfectly out-of-the-gate for the evening.
The remainder of the program flowed naturally from the biography of Martines, as her musical life in Vienna intersected with both Haydn’s and Mozart’s. The former taught her keyboard and composition, the latter she met in 1773, and later she performed with him at the keyboard in four-hand duets.
Haydn’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in C major featured ABO cellist Erin Ellis as soloist, with two horns, two oboes, two additional cellos, one bass, two violas, and six violins. The soloist’s instrument did not project especially, perhaps in part because she performed in the “baroque manner” — without an end pin, with the cello cradled between the legs. Ellis pursued somewhat avant-garde cadenzas, with ghost notes and an evocative and liberal use of negative space.
While the initial movement of the piece felt a slight disconnect between soloist and group, all came together admirably in short order for a deep, soothing slow movement and rousing conclusion.
Mozart’s Symphony No. 14 closed the evening. It exhibited most effectively the ABO’s controlled use of strings and woodwinds, as well as an extremely adept presentation of multiple voices from the ensemble in the work’s “call and response” section of its third movement.
Baroque and Classical-era music can project the privilege, power, wealth, and ostentation of elite patronage, but also it can express gleeful abandon made available by supreme compositional precision. The program’s sunny C-major, C-major, A-major grouping no doubt contributed to an overall effect of positivity and musical confidence. Exiting, I heard several concertgoers comment on how “fun” the evening had been. I am curious to hear how the ABO maintains this energy into the truly Baroque regions of its future performances this season. ■
- Atlanta Baroque Orchestra: atlantabaroque.org
- Jaap ter Linden: jaapterlinden.com
- Erin Ellis: erincello.com/
- An article about cello endpins: blog.feinviolins.com/2021/11/the-humble-endpin.html