• Musicians of the Old Post Road Sparkles in Christmas Celebration

    The Worcester Telegram and Gazette


    December 08. 2014 10:50AM

    The Musicians of the Old Post Road returned to the Worcester Historical Museum on Sunday afternoon with "Stille Nacht: A Classical German Christmas," the group's latest holiday-themed program. Taking the familiar carol "Silent Night" as its starting point, Sunday's concert was, typical of the group, a rich survey of 18th-century music inspired by the sights and sounds of the season, and one that included detours to some welcome, unfamiliar nooks.Perhaps the most intriguing revelation from Sunday's performance came via the opportunity to hear the work of a pair of high-profile musical relatives in close proximity to one another: fully half the program was devoted to music by Franz Joseph and Michael Haydn (brothers) and Leopold and Wolfgang Mozart (father and son).

    Read the full review here
  • Bohemian Composers Deserve Revival

    The Boston Musical Intelligencer
    April 21, 2012

    by Steven Ledbetter

    In the last half of the 18th century, Vienna was the capital of an empire that contained dozens of ethnic
    groups and languages. One of these, Bohemia, was almost as noted for music-making as Vienna itself.
    In addition to shaping a thriving musical life around Prague, Bohemian musicians also quite naturally
    made their way to Vienna and other places where employment possibilities were likely.

    For its last program of the 2011-12 season, the Musicians of the Old Post Road put together a
    stimulating program of music by composers all but unknown today who were part of that flowering
    of Bohemian music that operated in counterpoint, so to speak, with the handful of composers that
    every music lover knows, notably Haydn and Mozart. The program ended with a little-known work
    by Mozart, but otherwise it consisted of attractive works by composers of Bohemian background
    whose music

    Read the full review here
  • On the Old Post Road, From Moravia to America

    The Boston Globe

    By Jeremy Eichler | GLOBE STAFF MARCH 18, 2014

    Back in the late 1980s, cellist Daniel Ryan and flutist Suzanne Stumpf were touring in Europe, often performing in buildings whose history and architecture resonated powerfully with the music they were presenting. They returned to Boston inspired to seek out the equivalent local architectural gems that date back to the era of the Baroque and classical composers central to their repertoire. Once they found them, they established a chamber troupe to fill them with music — Musicians of the Old Post Road — named after the postal route that first linked the cities of Boston and New York.

    Twenty-five years later, the ensemble has a lot to show for itself, including a host of recordings and regional premieres to its credit, and a thoughtfully curated concert series that brings together early music with early architecture. For its silver anniversary the group is, appropriately enough, celebrating with a season of American early music.

    Read the full review here
  • Handel in Rome via Old Post Road

    Boston Musical Intelligencer | October 24, 2010

    by Mary Wallace Davidson

    As is usually the case, the Musicians of the Old Post Road, performing on period instruments under the co-direction of Suzanne Stumpf and Daniel Ryan, get an “A” in imaginative programming, and certainly on this occasion, for performance as well. We heard them in the First Parish, Sudbury, on Friday, October 22; it was repeated Saturday at Emmanuel Church in Boston.

    Our knowledge of Handel’s early years in Rome beginning in December, 1706 is a bit murky, but treated gracefully in the excellent (anonymous) program notes. Handel was welcomed into the palaces of Cardinals Carlo Colonna and Benedetto Pamphili, and the Marquess (later Prince) Francesco Maria Ruspoli, whose household Handel joined in 1707. This concert aimed to present music by Handel and other composers working in Rome at that time (rather loosely defined) under the patronage of these figures. By coincidence there recently was a symposium at Boston College on Pamphili family patronage and the arts.

    The opening Concerto in D minor, though attributed to Handel in the Bavarian library where the manuscript survives and so published in 1935, is probably not by him (nor by Telemann, to whom it has also been ascribed). Nevertheless it is a charming work in four movements (slow-fast-slow-fast) for traverso, violin, violoncello, and harpsichord. (“Traverso” is a modern term used to distinguish a wooden flute played in the same position as the current orchestral instrument. In music of earlier periods, “flauto” always meant a wooden recorder, blown directly into the mouthpiece at the top.) These instruments were stylishly played throughout the concert by (respectively) Suzanne Stumpf, Sarah Darling, Daniel Ryan, and Michael Bahmann, comprising the core group of the ensemble. They are all accomplished players who are fluent in matters of Baroque style without overdoing it. Bahmann’s mostly improvised harpsichord continuo was a model of its kind throughout.

    The concert achieved programmatic contrast by alternating purely instrumental works with solo cantatas and arias sung by lyric soprano Kristen Watson, whose rich, supple voice roamed over a wide range with ease, clear diction, strong but flexible projection and a vibrato used only for occasional subtle emphasis. Her ornamentation of repeated passages was well chosen and always apt for the text as well as the music. Watson had participated as a soloist in two of the sessions during the symposium mentioned above, which must have contributed to her fine performance here.

    The cantata Fuori del sua capanna, for soprano, traverso, and continuo (i.e., violoncello and harpsichord), has similarly been attributed in various extant manuscripts to Giovanni Buononcini (1670-1747), Jakob Greber (1691-1731), and Nicola Fago (1677-1745). The program notes chose Buononcini without mentioning the others, noting that he had been a cellist in Pamphili’s orchestra — but that was a decade earlier; by this time he had moved on to Vienna. Such matters aside, the cantata was a perfect choice to match the rich sounds of Stumpf’s traverso and Watson’s voice as they played off each other with great beauty. The two verses, each preceded by recitatives, speak of unrequited love in a pastoral setting frequented by a nightingale (the traverso), thus setting the stage for these ravishing duets.

    The violinist and composer Arcangelo Corelli came under the patronage of Cardinal Pamphili in 1676. His first set of Trio Sonatas (op. 2), dedicated to the Cardinal, was published in 1685. (The texture of a trio sonata is always two high instruments and basso continuo.) Violinist Jesse Irons joined the other instrumentalists for a performance of the fifth from this group, in B-flat major. After the first “Preludio”(Adagio), the other three dance movements were played vivaciously but still retained the stately character of their models. The performances by Irons and Darling were absolutely amazing, with playfulness and complete unity of sound in spite of presenting two different parts. Both of them play in the relatively new group A Far Cry, the conductorless chamber orchestra currently in residence at the Gardner Museum, of which Irons is a co-founder. Perhaps this experience partially contributed to their unbelievably fine performance and sensitivity to each other. Daniel Ryan, whose cello had unfortunately been a little too loud until this Sarabande, began then to temper his sound more effectively for the rest of the evening with gratifying results.

    As Ryan announced before the next work, the original called for a violone rather than a cello, and thus a real melodic part instead of a simple continuo line. He certainly rose to the occasion in the sweet melodic interludes for violone between verses, and then appropriately fell back to the bass line of the continuo part during the verses. (The score does have a bass line under the interludes fulfilled here by the improvising harpsichord.) The work was a solo cantata, by Giovanni Lulier (c.1662-1700), also known among Cardinal Pamphili’s musicians (1681-1690) as “Giovannino del Violone” because of his skill with the instrument. Amor di che tu vuoi, surviving in a manuscript in the Santini Collection in Munster, has never been published, but the process of creating a digital score from which the group could perform is nicely documented here, including sample images of both the manuscript and the score. This is a fine example by the Post Roadies of what can be done with performers’ Websites, usually merely drowning in names of performance venues. Once again, Watson sang with the passionate yet restrained ardor suggested by both text and music.

    After intermission we finally heard two vocal works by Handel for sure, surrounding a flute concerto by Francesco Gasparini (1661-1727), known to be a participant in Pamphili’s concerts around 1687. In A minor, it is scored for traverso, two violins, and continuo. Once again Darling and Irons were beguiling, especially in the “Siciliana” movement played with straight-faced pizzicato, holding their violins against their middles like banjos. Stumpf as soloist ornamented the da capo sections with great aplomb.

    The first of the Handel works was the plaintive “Lascia la spina,” from his allegorical oratorio with a libretto by Pamphili, Il trionfo del Tempo e del Disinganno (1707). Short as it is (a poem of only eight brief lines), this was perhaps the high point of the concert — if one had to choose. His setting of “Lascia” fairly flows off the tongue, as does “la spina,” (leave the thorn), and again the second line, “Cogli la rosa” (Pluck the rose), a simple couplet. Watson’s splendid voice and diction gave the words just the right emphasis, beautifully taken up by the strings’ bowing, the traverso gently reinforcing in a manner that made the ensemble just perfect. The final cantata, Tu fedel? Tu costante?,  composed in 1707 when Handel had just moved into the service of the Marquess Ruspoli, is quite long, comprising four sets of recitatives and arias as the singer contemplates jilting her fickle lover. Scored for soprano, two violins and continuo, it became an emotional tour de force as Watson maintained the steadily increasing drama of the arias until the final decision was reached, and once again provided an opportunity for the amazing violin duo (Darling and Irons) to shine. A standing ovation ensued.

  • Why Did Classical Music Stop Sounding Like This?

    From: Aesthetic, not Anesthetic blog

    Posted on October 25, 2010 by Perfesser M. Figg

    Intimate. Inviting. Warm. These may seem like odd descriptions for a program of late Baroque music performed on period instruments in a church, but tell that to Musicians of the Old Post Road.  It wasn’t simply the way that this music’s motor rhythms, ornamental flurries and sweetly sustained lyricism flowed effortlessly from these performers. Technical facility and  interpretive nuance can still sound cold and uninvolved, like going through the motions.

    It would’ve been hard to fake things in the Lindsey Chapel of Emmanuel Church. The furthest seats allowed you to hear the whirr of the bows and the flutist’s breath between phrases, see the look of pensive empathy as a cello bowed a song like melody, or feel the group sway during a gently rocking Siciliana.   Yet it wasn’t just a matter of being close.   The acoustics welcomed the audience even as they enveloped them, making the stone walls and high arches seem like a hologram.  This place was designed for close-knit ensemble playing, allowing an immediacy that recalled its place as something you’d hear at home rather than a hall.

    Most of this music was in fact played in the home of Cardinal Pamphili, who commissioned these works and many others.  Saturday night’s “Roman Handel” program focused on Handel‘s student years in Italy, with works by the young prodigy and other Italian contemporaries that Pamphili supported.   Interesting, but what do the tastes of an 18th century ecclesiastical elite say to us? It turns out a lot when those tastes are given over to these musicians.  Musicians of the Old Post Road quite simply make you give a damn about hearing and seeing all of this, with knowledge and affection for this repertoire that made it  larger and more gripping than anything we usually dub “chamber music, ” “baroque” or “classical.”

    The opening concerto’s  sad little story for violin, flute, cello and harpsichord began with a melancholy flute before the second movement pitted Sarah Darling’s pure, singing violin over full, rounded spirals from Daniel Ryan’s cello. On Bononcini’s cantata “Fuori di sua capanna” Kirsten Watson’s soprano was sleek but warm, without any of the iciness of some period singers. While her high notes occasionally fell away at the outer edges, she covered the decorous lines emotionally and with perfect timing. Rather than histrionic opera or stodgy music history lesson, the sense was of a mid 18th century jazz club.

    Corelli’s Trio Sonatas (works for 2 violins and rhythm section) were regarded as structural and thematic models in their time, but their acrobatic gracefulness transcends centuries and textbook chapters.   After a slightly awkward blend during the first movement, Sarah Darling projected a witty second movement theme that seemed to perfectly explain why this composer was so popular.  The fourth and final movement’s animated ride-out dovetailed with Lulier’s sensual, driving cantata “Amor do che tu vuoi.”

    Cellist Daniel Ryan took the time to give some background to this composer, and the regional premier of his work. Something as simple as a performer acknowledging an audience beyond the customary bow is huge, and talking about the music reminds us how communication and education often go hand in hand.  More bridges to the audience like this might take the starch out of Western classical’s shirt.  This cantata was one of the first works to designate the cello as a solo instrument, rather than the violin or the cello’s predecessor the viola da gamba.   Plaintive, expressive singing and straightforward but engaged cello added fire to Lullier’s competent setting of nymphs and shepherds pining for one another, a popular theme of the time which can sound academic and dry in less gripping ensembles.

    At the other end of the spectrum, Suzanne Stumpf’s flute was agitated and insistent for the whirlwind of Gasparini’s A minor flute concerto.  The strings dug in behind the flute’s intricately catchy lines in the first movement, before their spare plucks  in the central slow movement caressed the soloist’s piping high notes and juicy trills.  The third and final movement highlighted how even the smallest group can draws stirring contrast between soloist and an ensemble, with booming cello making the small band sound like a cannon.

    Gasparini’s fury turned out to be a fitting segue to Handel’s large-scale cantata “Tu fedel? Tu constante?”, where a nymph rails against her lover’s infidelity. Ms. Watson actually introduced this one, humorously alluding to the popularity of these Arcadian soap operas and proving that opera singers can speak as well as sing.  If classical performers continue to be this engaging and helpful the audience might think their presence is welcome, and newbies might even feel welcome!

    Opening with 2 violins chasing at each others’ heels, the singer’s voice shined the brightest on  the evening’s most tortuous, dramatically involved vocal number.  The shift from imploring to confused, then angry, and finally carefree was riveting in spite of the text.  (I guess good music makes itself the point.)  Her voice hammered and caressed the back of the house, as strings and flutes seamlessly blended in and around her. Coquettish ornaments and the dismissive march-out highlighted what makes this genre so distinct, where else can you get acting without costumes or movement?

    If the audience was getting a hell of a show, so were the players.  We all giggled at the narrator reading the riot act to her tomcat lover, and tapped our feet to Handel’s enraged gigue.   Music like this is as much a pleasure because it spits in the face of classical music as a staid, elitist art form.  At the end of the program, I asked my companion (no opera lover) what they thought. “It was cool!  Spiteful, like a Pink song…”  Not a bad compliment for a dead white male associated with the 70+ crowd…

  • The Salon Was Cold, but Not the Music

    Boston Musical Intelligencer | February 7, 2010

    by Mary Wallace Davidson

    Musicians of the Old Post Road presented a concert, “From the Romantic Salon,” at both the First Parish in Wayland on February 5 and the Harvard Epworth Church in Cambridge on February 6. I heard the latter, but the Church’s heating system was not working, so we all sat huddled in our coats—the temperature was surely no more than 50° F (it was 21° F outside), with perceptible drafts. Nonetheless the performers, Olav Chris Henriksen, guitar, Suzanne Stumpf, flute, Sarah Darling, viola, and Daniel Ryan, cello, in spite of their red cheeks, miraculously managed to seem oblivious. The temperature was probably good for the instruments, but these weren’t just any old instruments.

    The concert was built around Henriksen’s unaltered six-string guitar, ca. 1805, in the style of the Viennese school of Johann Georg Stauffer (1778-1853). (See the article, “Stalking the Oldest Six-String Guitar,” by Thomas F. Heck, which includes a picture of a Stauffer instrument of 1820.) It had once been owned by Henriksen’s great-great-grandfather in Norway, and handed down through generations of the family, “always to the one who learned to play on it.” It is comparatively small but has a rich resonance easily heard throughout the well-chosen space. Suzanne Stumpf’s wooden, multi-keyed, old system flute is also from Vienna at the same period: it has a sweet sound in its lower register, and bird-like fleetness in its upper one. Dan Ryan’s singing cello was made a century earlier (ca. 1700) in Belgium, and Sarah Darling’s viola almost two centuries later (in 1987) in Chicago (by William Whedbee).

    The music for the first two works was found in the Henriksen family archives, rediscovered a year ago, a collection representing guitar music played in family circles in northern Europe from 1793 to 1850. The Rondo, op. 28, no. 2, by Francesco Molino (1775-1847),  first published in Leipzig in 1810,  served as a fine chance to introduce the guitar by itself in a simple, charming, stylishly performed piece by a master of the instrument. The Variations for flute and guitar, by the otherwise unknown I. A. Preis, is a similarly delightful work whose short sections are distinctly energetic. Another short work, for cello and guitar, the Nocturne no. 2 by Friedrich Burgmuller (1806-1874), is from a set of three originally published in 1840 by Richault in Paris, but reprinted by three publishers in the last 30 years. Marked Adagio cantibile, the piece is indeed an aria of great beauty for the cello, in baldly simple ABA form. Dan Ryan’s violoncello soared eloquently to Henriksen’s simple accompaniment.

    The two longer works on the program were each in five movements, an assortment of simple sonata forms and dances. The first, just before intermission, was a Serenade in C Major for viola, cello and guitar (before 1808) by the violinist and composer Nicolò Paganini (1782-1840). The final movement, the Andantino (alla Polacca), was published as an appendix to the first edition in 1985. The other movement markings colorfully suggest their character: Andantino, amorosamente, Unione e con anima, and Canzonetta Genovese. One wished the group could have relaxed a bit more and “danced” these, but no doubt the temperature seriously discouraged this. The final work on the program is perhaps historically the most interesting: a Nocturne, op. 21, by the Viennese composer Wenzel Matiegka (1773-1830), originally for flute, viola, and guitar published by Artaria in Vienna in 1807, and arranged by Franz Schubert in 1814. He replaced the second Trio of the Menuetto movement (D. 96), and reapportioned the viola part between it and the cello (D. Anh. II/2). The third movement, Lento e patetico, was unfortunately marred in one of its most beautiful phrases in the cello by an accelerating bus outside. (Sanders Theatre has its fire engines!) In the final theme and seven variations, Schubert played with the textures by allowing both the guitar and the cello to take turns sitting one out, and also wrote new music for the cello. The manuscript in his hand was not discovered until 1918, and the exact relationship to Matiegka’s work not determined until a copy was located in 1931. The full story is told in great detail by Reinhard Van Hoorickx in Revue belge de musicologie (1977). It was the highlight of this musical evening.

    Musicians of Old Post Road, Inc.. founded in 1989, do us a great service by bringing to our serious attention tasteful performances of well-chosen music from a genre that was widespread in both Europe and America before the age of the concert hall. And furthermore, their program notes are just as outstanding as their performances. Kudos!

  • Musicians of the Old Post Road Polish Mediterranean Gems

    by Robert Myers, Classical Voice of New England

    Boston, MA, 19 December 2009.  The rustic worship hall in Boston’s Old South Church provided the acoustical setting on Saturday afternoon for the Musicians of the Old Post Road to present their concert entitled: “A Mediterranean Baroque Christmas.”  The ensemble is a period instrument chamber group comprised of accomplished performers based in the Boston area that prides itself on “rediscovering” works from the Baroque, Classical, and Romantic periods that are seldom performed.  Indeed, the venues for their concerts are purposely chosen historic landmarks, contributing to the experience as fully anachronistic. 

    The program began with the Sinfonia II for traverso, violin, viola, and continuo from Michel Corrette’s Six Symphonies en Quatuor contenant les plus beaux Nöels.  Corrette was an organist-composer who served as organist to Parisian collèges and French nobility alike, and whose compositional range includes ballets, organ concerti, and chamber vocal works, among many other genres.  Like many composers of his day, Corrette here sets popular Nöel tunes for instrumental ensemble, embracing both style and source material of countries outside his native France, lending his settings a many-hued texture.  The musicians performed expertly and accurately, and not without a decent helping of Corrette’s historically infamous wit.

    Following the Nöel settings came Per il natale, a beautifully lyrical work for soprano and continuo by woman composer Antonia Bembo.  Taught by Francesco Cavalli, Bembo’s writing is a blend of French and Italian styles (as was her life).  Part of a larger work dedicated to Louis XIV, Per il natale is a beautifully introspective reflection on the Virgin Mary and her infant.  Barbara Kilduff’s voice gave life to this rarely-performed gem, a perfect marriage of composer and performer.  Following was Giusseppe Valentini’s  Sinfonia à tre, per il Santissimo Natale, termed his “Christmas Concerto.”  A contemporary of Vivaldi and Correlli, the younger composer was no doubt aware of the latter’s work of the same name, yet manages some innovation in his formal structure and rhythmic vigor.  The musicians demonstrated a superb ensemble, communicating beautifully across the ever-changing musical mosaic of Valentini’s concerto.

    Following the intermission, the musicians performed Juan Francés de Iribarren’s A Belèn caminad pastorcillos.  A representation of the Spanish/Italian blend that synthesized Spanish song form with an incorporation of aria-recitative formats, this Italianate villancico is a grandly expressive work, belying Iribarren’s choral background in its remarkable crafting for the voice.  A work by landmark composer of Baroque flute writing, Nicolas Chédeville’s Sonata No. 4 for traverso and continuo from Il Pastor Fido followed.  His work is a remarkable example of lightheartedness, written primarily for enjoyment of the musical amateurs within the noble class.  This particular sonata was once attributed to Vivalidi, though recent scholarship has reassigned its authorship.  Suzanne Stumpf is a superb master of the traverso flute, an instrument renowned for its difficulty in tonal stability and intonation – a fact which discouraged many composers from writing for it as other instruments improved.  She has an unquestionable grasp of the requisite style, performing with elegance and ease.

    The final piece on the program was Francesco Mancini’s Con pace si bella.  Mancini was a protégé of and the successor to Alessandro Scarlatti as Maestro di Cappella in the court of the viceroy of Naples.  During his time there, Mancini came to be esteemed for his sacred works, a shining example of which is this cantata.  The original manuscript for Con pace si bella exists, preserved at The British Library, and the work was presented on this program for the first time in New England.  A remarkably picturesque composition, it sets a descriptive libretto amidst myriad instrumental textures and effects.  Sometimes striking in its beauty, Mancini’s writing never failed in its aim to evoke imagery – both natural and divine.

    The Musicians of the Old Post Road is a cleverly conceived and impeccably presented group of artists who render a great service in the realm of period performance.  Through their scholarship, programming, and enthusiasm, they shine a light on a corner of the repertoire that is too often neglected – a praiseworthy contribution to the Boston area concert calendar.

  • Carols across Europe, through time

    By Matthew Guerrieri,  Boston Globe Correspondent  |  December 23, 2008

    WORCESTER - It's ironic that the Musicians of the Old Post Road, in concert-by-concert transit of their namesake thoroughfare, were done in by a parking ban, but Mayor Menino's edict in the face of last Friday's storm forced cancellation of their Christmas concert at Emmanuel Church. (The concert is rescheduled at that locale for Dec. 27 at 3 p.m.) Snow notwithstanding, last Saturday's concert, farther down the path in Worcester, went off as planned.

    The program itself traversed Baroque-era Europe for its holiday fare. Michel-Richard Delalande's "No??ls en Trio," a decorative medley of French carols, made a grand opening. Harpsichordist Michael Bahmann and cellist (and Old Post Road co-director) Daniel Ryan's richly embroidered continuo supported intricate blends of the sharpened focus of period violins (Sarah Darling and Abigail Karr) with the feathered edges of traverso flute (the group's other director, Suzanne Stumpf).

    Michel Corrette's "Concerto No??l Suisse" shows a French composer proselytizing for the Baroque Italian novelty of the concerto via some borrowed Swiss carols. With Stumpf taking the lead, the music interrupted its own polished discourse with brief instrumental breaks and unison choruses, effecting an offhanded elegance.

    Soprano Kristen Watson and mezzo-soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore sang Louis-Nicolas Cl??rambault's modestly joyous "Hodie Christus natus est" with a paradigmatic early-music timbre: light, mostly without vibrato, prizing flexibility and clarity.

    The pair scintillated in Francisco de Santiago's "Ay como flecha la ni??a Rayos," a sun-drenched villancico in celebration of the Virgin Mary, a 17th-century girl-power anthem of zigzag rhythms and shiny bounce. Rentz-Moore then tackled Georg Philip Telemann's cantata "Abscheuliche Tiefe des grossen Verderbens!" ("Loathsome depths of eternal corruption!"), a dark reminder of the contrasting bookend to Christ's birth, its heavy tread lashed by dotted rhythms and syncopations.

    Each singer took on an extended work in the second half. Watson sang a "Gloria" ascribed to Handel in 2001, an attribution under healthy debate ever since. The music displays Handel's energy but not much of his melodic efficacy, lavishing coloratura sparkle that Watson dispatched with bright, clean precision, while revealing some vocal bloom in more middle registers.

    Rentz-Moore, relying more on scrupulous projection of the sounds of the words than variation in vocal color to transmit the drama, showed the Gloria from the other side in Alessandro Scarlatti's "Cantata Pastorale."

    A shepherd compares angelic radiance to a shift in the seasons, diminished-chord winter giving way to a spring of dulcet thirds in the violins. "My eyes delight," the final aria sings, "in seeing, in the middle of ice, the flower." Add a parking spot, and it's a lovely evening. 

  • Old Post Road musicians reveal Handel’s largeness of spirit

    Worcester Telegram, April 2009

    By John Zeugner Telegram & Gazette

    With Handel the sun comes out and just stays out,” remarked guest violinist Sarah Darling during the nifty after-concert dessert reception at the First Unitarian Church Friday night.

    What underlies the bounding mirth that seems to lope along underneath everything Handel wrote? A largeness of spirit, a bottled but always leaking saturnalian joy. And when that immense warmth is married to the meticulous, nuanced attention to detail characteristic of the Musicians of the Old Post Road, the result is always captivating.

    For the final concert of its 20th season, the group settled on an all-Handel program: two cantatas and three orchestral pieces. The opening Sonata in G used seven musicians: ensemble veterans, Daniel Ryan, cello, Suzanne Stumpf, traverso, Michael Bahmann, harpsichord; violinists Darling and Abigail Karr, violist Marcia Cassidy, and Jane Hershey, viola da gamba. The crisp, opening allegro attacks displayed the signature control of the group, yielding almost immediately to the beguiling lilt that permeates Handel.

    In the Sonata’s second movement, Stumpf’s always fluent traverso sound floated above the neatly articulated violin and cello lines, flowing into the sweet longing of the Passacallie, then a spirited Gigue, and finally a rousing Minuett restoring relentless lilt to the melody-rich offering.

    The first cantata, “Mi palpita il cor,” featured the night’s lone voice soloist, mezzo-soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore, extolling that familiar anguish and exaltation of the frustrated lover. The second aria romped through a lovely dialogue between Rentz-Moore’s voice and Stumpf’s equally gorgeous traverso playing. Rentz-Moore’s voice seems perfect for Handel, weighty, and grounded with periodic glimpses of coloratura leaps. At the end the blend of voice, cello, harpsichord and traverso achieved a beguiling rightness.

    The final offering of the first half was the familiar Opus 3 Concerto Grosso No. 3 in G, allowing again for Stumpf to infuse a rasp beyond usual flute clarity in her traverso.

    The fugue progressions of the final movement sparkled.

    After the intermission, Bahmann’s controlled, neatly articulated mastery of the harpsichord literally pulled together the concerto for his instrument and two recorders (John Tyson joined Stumpf).

    The concert concluded with Handel’s cantata “Tra le Fiamme,” a marvelous meditation on the Icarus disaster. Rentz-Moore returned, in even stronger voice. She soared, buttressed in the melodic lines by dazzling viola da gamba playing by Jane Hershey.

  • Old Post Road brilliant in baroque holiday program

    December 22, 2008

    By John Zeugner, Worcester Telegram & Gazette reviewer

    WORCESTER— Improbably enough, the Musicians of the Old Post Road may have pointed the way toward coping with the new American reality of a shattered and mangled economy.

    Relying on only arm, finger, and lung power, rejecting the manufactured in favor of the hand-crafted, seeking the organic over the engineered — animal gut over etiolated steel, the baroque past over the media-symphonic present — these dedicated artists seem harbingers of the “retro reality” we’ve inherited.

    The Telemann cantata that closed the first half of the concert Saturday night at Trinity Lutheran Church contained the perfect commentary (translated from the German text) on the misery of the world, especially in power-deprived, storm-battered Central Massachusetts: “Destructive perversity of the stubborn world,” sang mezzo soprano Deborah Rentz-Moore in superb voice, with meltingly pure tones, “it batters, it crashes, it stumbles and falls.” Storm-stumbling canceled their concert in Boston Friday night and doubtless reduced the audience in Worcester, but that smaller crowd was rewarded with a unique, flawlessly executed program of little-known baroque Christmas music.

    The concert opened with several instrumental “noels” composed for Paris’ “Christmas Spirituel” during Louis XIV’s time by one of that king’s main music minions, Michel-Richard Delalande. After a bit of a lengthy tuneup —gut strings are devilishly difficult to align — string players Sarah Darling (violin and viola), Abigail Karr (violin) and Daniel Ryan (cello) were joined by Suzanne Stumpf (traverso) and Michael Bahmann (harpsichord) for a spirited reading of Delalande’s works. There was an almost one-note-like sound fusion of flute and violin in the middle movements, and the whole group delightedly lilted the final minuet. A joyous rhythmic buoyancy seems emblematic of the Post Road ensemble, and was most evident again in the opening and closing movements of Michel Corrette’s “Concerto Noel Suisse” in the second half.

    Suzanne Stumpf’s traverso playing was as always spot-on and commanding.

    Other seldom-heard delights of this concert included Antonio Scarlatti’s “Cantata Pastorale,” a motet by Louis-Nicolas Clerambault, and another Spanish “villancico” — 17th-century trendy, low-brow, popular music in Spain — by Francisco de Santiago. Increasingly “villancico” have become signature pieces for the Post Roaders.

    With typically meticulous forethought, the program seemed aimed to peak with the final composition, a recently discovered liturgical “Gloria,” perhaps by G. F. Handel. As was underscored so brilliantly last year, the Musicians of the Old Post Road have a particular affinity for Handel’s music (even if perhaps not by Handel). Soprano Kristen Watson thrilled the audience with her rendering of this splendid music, easily sweeping them to their feet at the end.

    It was a powerful, pleasing foretaste of the Musicians of the Old Post Road’s much anticipated, season-ending concert, March 27, 2009, at the First Unitarian Church, “In Celebration of Handel.” Doubtless, by then we will all be even more open to the second installment of the Musicians of the Old Post Road’s life lessons to be learned in the limited, circumscribed, new American reality.