Classical review, Ars Antiqua at Quigley Chapel
By Ted Shen
Reprinted from the Chicago Tribune
With the Chicago Baroque Ensemble on a prolonged hiatus, the city’s early-music scene seems to be in the doldrums. Yet, for many performers and connoisseurs, it’s as vibrant as ever, buoyed by scores of unpublicized recitals in churches and brightened by the prospect of the Chicago Opera Theater’s revivals of Baroque operas that draw from the local talent pool.
What’s more, Chicago continues to be a period-instrument mecca to apprentices who want to be coached by the likes of Newberry Consort’s viola da gambist Mary Springfels, one of the movement’s standard-bearers. Still, fewer noteworthy performances may further the decline in audience interest first detected a few years ago.
Hoping to reverse the tide, double-bass virtuoso Jerry Fuller, who used to play with the Chicago Baroque Ensemble, formed Ars Antigua last fall. His plan is to turn this group full of veterans into an anchor for the early-music community, a catalyst for concerts involving other musicians. Saturday afternoon in the Quigley Seminary’s St. James Chapel, one of Fuller’s dreams came true when Ars Antigua joined forces with another new ensemble, the Chicago Camerata, for a Baroque potpourri.
On hand to help out were several seasoned instrumentalists, including Springfels. The program seemed to have been designed for them—particularly trumpeter Paul Plunkett from Germany—but it didn’t slight the up-and-comers who make up the Camerata’s roster. The centerpiece, a vocal chaconne by Johann Christoph Bach, belonged largely to the younger set.
Set to a text from “The Song of Songs,” this Chaconne in G Minor, circa 1680s, is erotic yet spiritual. The singer describes a lover’s arousing embrace while violins and viols echo and stoke her passion. Mezzo-soprano Shaelyn Boos sang it with eloquence, ardently conveying a woman’s ambivalent desires. The accompaniment from a band consisting of Fuller, Springfels, gambist Craig Trompeter, cellist Chase Morrison and violinists Nell Flanders and Ann Kaefer Duggan was vivid; Flanders, in particularly, fiddled with seductive zeal.
Plunkett—joined by Antigua’s Flanders, Fuller, Patricia Ahern (violin), Pablo Mahave-Veglia (cello) and Andrew Fredel (harpsichord)—proffered a sampler of trumpet showcases.
Alessandro Stradella’s festive and mellifluous Sinfonia Avanti il Barcheggio in D Major probably paved the way for the tighter-structured concertos of the late Baroque. It’s studded with lovely, ornamental flourishes, and the give-and-takes between trumpet and the two violins are felicitous. Plunkett’s playing was precise and spirited. And it grew even more extroverted in Corelli’s Sonata a Quattro in D Major.
Flutist Anita Miller-Rieder’s solo turn in Bach’s A Minor Partita was elegant. And Ahern displayed plenty of poise and fluent technique handling Biber’s stately Passacaglia for violin.
All of this bodes well for Ars Antigua’s three-concert series next season at Quigley.