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CHAMBER REVIEW
Sonoma Classical Music Society / Friday, September 5, 2008
Musica Pacifica, the Bay Area's pre-eminent baroque performance ensemble. Judith Linsenbert, recorder; Elisabeth Blumenstock, violin; David Morris, 'cello/viola da gamba; Charles Sherman, harpsichord.

Musica Pacifica

BAROQUE MUSIC AT ITS BEST

by Joanna Bramel Young
Sunday, September 7, 2008

On Sept. 5, the Sonoma Classical Music Society presented the baroque chamber ensemble Musica Pacifica in a delightful concert. Recorder virtuoso Judith Linsenberg (a Bay Area resident and graduate of Stanford’s early music program), brilliant baroque violinist Elizabeth Blumenstock (of American Bach Soloists and Philharmonia Baroque fame), baroque cellist and viola da gambist David Morris (one of the Bay Area’s finest baroque specialists), and harpsichordist Yuko Tanaka (replacing Charles Sherman) performed a varied program of early Italian works, as well as pieces by Bach, Telemann, Purcell, Domenico Scarlatti, Veracini, and Rameau.

Sonoma’s Burlingame Hall is not an ideal venue for concerts, and on this hot evening the air conditioner was so loud that it had to be turned off during the concert, leaving both the performers and audience sweltering. With no raised stage, it was difficult to see the performers, and the lighting was dim. Concert goers were also on their own trying to find their cars in the dark parking lot after the event. However, the performers rose to the challenge, and put on an excellent concert, in spite of having just gotten off a plane from Seattle.

In the first piece, a Vivaldi Concerto in D Major, Linsenberg performed on the voice flute, a recorder almost as large as the tenor recorder, but in the key of D (the tenor is in C). The voice flute was a popular instrument in the 18th century, as it plays in the same range as the human singing voice. Especially notable was Blumenstock’s recently acquired violin line, which had an exceptionally sweet tone. This violin was the gift of a Philharmonia Baroque patron, and after trying many instruments throughout the United States, she settled on one she thought she may have played (and fallen in love with) years earlier. It had belonged to a former Metropolitan Opera orchestra violinist who had long ago let her try his fiddle, an Andrea Guarneri built in Cremona in 1660.

The performers exhibited impressive technique. This reviewer, a recorder player, was especially impressed at the brilliant and expressive work of Linsenberg on five different recorders. On instruments with no keys, she was able to play with astonishing speed and sensitivity. In one piece, the Rameau Suite from “Les Indes Galantes,” the recorder and violin played in unison – perfectly matched in intonation and dynamics. Elizabeth Blumenstock had to match the soft recorder perfectly, and did to great effect.

The 16th century Italian composers Castello, Falconiero, and Rossi are favorites for the recorder performer – brilliant short works and passionate at the same time. The renaissance ornaments flew fast and furiously in these pieces, demonstrating how sophisticated recorder technique was in the 16th century. Another lovely piece was a Bach organ trio that had been arranged for three solo instruments: gamba, alto recorder, and violin, with harpsichord accompaniment. Bach created three solo lines on the organ – one for each hand and one for the feet. He would often arrange his own ensemble works into organ trios, so Musica Pacifica simply reversed the process.

One of the more sensitive performances of the evening was the “Scottish” movement from Veracini’s Sonata in A Major. One rarely encounters use of a slow, sentimental Scottish melody by an Italian baroque composer; but Veracini wrote a set of imaginative variations on one in the Italian manner, returning to the simple tune near the end of the movement. It was played with elegance by Blumenstock and Tanaka.