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.
This spring has been teeming with a dizzying profusion of riches for the lover of early music in the Northeast. In April Carnegie Hall launched “Before Bach,” a month-long festival of Renaissance and Baroque music performed by the the most admired international groups and soloists in the field. Since this was an “on” year for The Boston Early Music Festival, an equally distinguished group of regulars and visitors just now packed about the same amount of musical activity into a week, supplemented by hosts of mostly outstanding comprimarii in its Fringe. This coming weekend BEMF’s western coda, consisting of Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610 and his Orfeo, both performed in the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center in Great Barrington, will overlap with the first weekend of one of the oldest festivals of early music, Aston Magna.
This was a marvelous concert. It had plenitude; there was abundance in it. It was partly the thought-out programming, as always with Dan Stepner’s concerts. But it was also the richness of experience, the ease of it. The viola da gamba gives the sense that around the straight narrowness of the tone, there is something else, full of suggestion. The instrument itself conjures you into listening twice—first to the actual sound, and then, almost against your will, to something else it puts into the room. The viol always seems a private confidant. I have heard Laura Jeppesen perform a great many times, and her playing on this occasion was more fluent than ever, and spoke intimate truth. It made a pact with the listener, a faith that something important was being said.
Nothing in recent Berkshire performance memory could have prepared me for the extraordinary elegance of today’s recital with renowned gambist Wieland Kuijken, recorder virtuoso Eva Legêne, and harpsichordist Arthur Hass. Mr Kuijken, if you don’t know already, is a member of the renowned Belgian family of period musicians that includes violinist/conductor Sigiswald and flautist Barthold. Dutch-born Eva Legêne, a student of Frans Brüggen, was formally a professor of music at Indiana University and the Royal Danish Academy, and now lives and gives master classes in Germany. Arthur Haas, a student of Alan Curtis and Kenneth Gilbert, performs widely in Europe and teaches at Berkeley, Amherst, the Eastman School, and Stanford.