Baroque at Fairchild Chapel
Orchestra plays to standing room only audience
The Oberlin Baroque Orchestra, led by Jeannette Sorrell, played to a standing-room-only audience on Saturday in a concert that paid loving tribute to music of the Baroque era. Sorrell, founder and director of the Cleveland-based baroque ensemble Apollo’s Fire, brought to Fairchild Chapel a passion for this music that was clearly contagious. The members of the small Oberlin ensemble appeared to be enjoying themselves immensely, a refreshing sight at an orchestra concert. Despite the crowd, Fairchild’s intimate and beautiful performance space was the perfect location for the event. The group presented a pure, unified and unforced collective sound, a substantial challenge on period instruments.
The concert opened with two contrasting pieces by Telemann: his Concerto Polonois in G major and his Don Quixote Suite. The Concerto was an invigorating, joyful romp, showcasing the orchestra’s fine ensemble and light touch, as well as Sorrell’s admirable balance of both energized conducting and artful harpsichord playing. The Don Quixote Suite, easily the most entertaining piece on the program, is a charming work comprised of six short movements, or scenes.
From Don Quixote’s famous attack on the windmills, when the violins whip into a virtuosic and perfectly coordinated near-frenzy, to the sigh/heartbeat motives invoking infatuation’s heady mix of hope and anguish, the orchestra gave this work a marvelous and dramatic reading — it conveyed perfectly Don Quixote’s misguided gallantry and elicited several appreciative peals of laughter from the audience. Sorrell herself arranged the Concerto Grosso version of Vivaldi’s “La Folia,” which closed the first half. She described her arrangement as a “party” onstage, and this was indeed the feeling of the performance. Featured soloists senior Amie Weiss, and sophomore Johanna Novom, tackled the violin solos (Vivaldi’s original variations) with poise, precision and verve, making an old classic sound fresh and the tricky passages seem effortless. Their combined sound was full, festive and unified, with a delicacy reminiscent of fine flute playing. The rollicking conclusion was nearly cut short by enthusiastic applause.
The ambitious second half consisted of two of Bach’s renowned Brandenburg Concertos, No. 3 and 4. The challenges of these two masterworks exposed some minor imperfections in ensemble and intonation, but on the whole it was an inspired, engaging performance. Junior violinist Evan Few’s sweet and versatile sound lent itself perfectly to the Concerto No. 4 in G; bright and assertive in solo passages and mellow and flexible in the more orchestral sections.
Few shared the spotlight with two recorder soloists, Anne Timberlake and Andrew Eden, whose clean and stylistically impeccable playing captured the lightness and joy of the concerto. These two adjectives seemed to be the themes of the entire evening, an enchanting and enthused celebration of baroque music.