At the risk of repeating myself, I must once again give my best praise to Aston Magna’s concert, “Dueling Violins, Genial Gambas,” on June 30 at Saint James Place in Great Barrington. Though I am not on the lookout for poor performances from anyone, I am continually amazed at the high level of the participating artists in this group. The style has become an easy, normal thing, speaking clearly to us centuries later in large part because of the ease these wonderful players show. From the Duo G minor of Jean-Marie Leclair to Marin Marais’s “Plainte” in the Suite in G Major, each affect was powerfully clear, but never exaggerated. These players are at home in the musics that they have made popular. I remember the great gamba playing of the late John Hsu, director of Aston Magna from 1985 to 1990. I hear the elegance of his playing in the current Aston Magna ensemble. This concert celebrated his memory in a way nothing else can, playing the afternoon’s music with an effortless virtuosity.
Violinists Daniel Stepner and Edson Scheid were constant providers of elegant, adventurous string playing. Michael Sponseller impressed us with the sonorous harpsichord solo “Les Barricades Mysterieuses” by François Couperin, with elegant articulation and phrasing. I have listened to Catherine Liddell play the theorbo for many years, and each time she finds a deeper place for its wonderful music. Her performance of Robert de Visée’s “Les Sylvains” left the audience mesmerized.
We were treated to a lovely talk by Dan Stepner before the concert began, and two great gambists, Laura Jeppesen and Sarah Cunningham, told us not only how their instruments worked, but what their location was in the history of string playing.
Bravo to all!