November 7, 2009

The 18th century strutted its baroque stuff on Saturday, November 7, to the delight of a large audience at the Bedford United Methodist Church.  Organist Bryan Lohr and the Chamber Orchestra of the Alleghenies teamed up to present a program of baroque music for organ and strings, using the renovated organ to its great advantage.  All the masters of the baroque made an appearance, and we were transported in time to a glorious era in music.

The famous Albinoni Adagio in G minor began the program, followed by Handel’s popular organ concerto called “The Cuckoo and the Nightingale.”  Named for the bird songs heard throughout all five movements, the concerto is what I think of as perfectly baroque:  wonderful interplay between the orchestra and the organ, rich adagio sections, and buoyant allegro sections.  

Vivaldi’s Concerto Madrigalesco was the next piece, with unusual and moody harmonies.  Vivaldi was a Catholic priest who held a teaching position at an orphanage in Venice.  He created an all-female orchestra for which he wrote this concerto.  The organ and cello parts were particularly notable.  Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” came next, a beloved and moving composition and one of the last pieces Mozart wrote.  This instrumental arrangement of the choral piece showed off the organ especially well, as did the Mozart piece that followed, the brief “Epistle” Sonata in C Major.

After the intermission, we heard another sonata, this one by Vivaldi.  The sonata, part of a series called Sonatas al Santo Sepolcro for probable use during Holy Week, was full of harmonic interest and mysticism, in part because the cello was often heard.  This was a side of Vivaldi that was new to me, as it doesn’t resemble at all his dynamic pieces like “The Four Seasons.”   The program moved on to Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring,” with the organ playing the melody and the orchestra the running harmony.  The concert ended on a triumphant note with Handel’s Organ Concerto No. 5 Opus 4, with a number of organ solo parts.  The program notes cited the “exuberant baroque gestures,” but to me the whole piece was one big exuberant composition.

The organ and orchestra played beautifully together, with the one not overpowering the other.  Indeed, I was surprised that I could so easily hear the cembalo (the name for a harpsichord in Italian).  It is a tribute to the skill of these talented musicians and their four hours of rehearsals that the musical balance was always perfect.
-N. M.  

Review from the Bedford Gazette