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Review: A quartet of recorders, and more

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Flanders Recorder Quartet
  • Flanders Recorder Quartet

The recorder has historically been viewed as the flute's predecessor and, like the harpsichord, was not used in the 19th century, wherein most of the classical standard repertoire originates. But, also like the harpsichord, this long, hollow cylinder, most often blown into at one end, has come into its own again with the revival of "early music" and "period" instruments.

The Flanders Recorder Quartet capped this season's series of Early Music Festival concerts with a filled IHC Basile Theater and music dominated in the program's second half by Johann Sebastian Bach -- the first Bach offered this season. A plethora of earlier Baroque composers made up the first half, ending with an offering each by Arvo Pärt (b. 1935) and Johannes Brahms (Romantic composers are usually disallowed in this series).

These were played on various sized instruments from a small soprano recorder to a humongous, seven foot "contrabass" recorder, which stood upright on the floor, its player standing with it using a mouthpiece level with his lips. Strangely for its size, it made an unimpressive sound, its bass tones rather thin and weak. Perhaps this explains why, according to one of the players, there are only three of these "contras" known to exist in the world.

Our players: Tom Beets, Bart Spanhove, Joris Van Goethem and Paul Van Loey performed pieces in the first half largely resembling the polyphony for voice of Renaissance greats such as Palestrina and Victoria. Unknown people: Juan Cabanilles, Thomas Preston, Francísco Fernández Palermo, Antonio Cabezón had their styles on display, with the group constantly switching to different sized instruments.

Pärt's selection, "Pari Intervalli," shows the same style of harmonic shifts as his more familiar "Fratres" for string quartet or string orchestra. Brahms' "Fugue pour orgue" uncharacteristically reverts to a Baroque style not quite fitting his temperament. It seemed a bit thorny and disjointed.

The evening's Bach half began with his Concerto in A Minor, BWV 596, written as an organ concerto and adapted from one by Antonio Vivaldi. Next came the Passacaglia in G Minor which our performers apparently adapted from Bach's mighty organ Passacaglia and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 582, to which it resembles but is not identical. A Prelude and Fugue in C minor for organ and the chorale from Bach's motet Jesu meine Freude closed the program.

As this closes the 47th straight season of mostly sterling performers -- including the Flanders group -- of music written before 1750, I offer only one caveat: In the past, one season's worth of early music programs would explore a wider variety of periods. We'd hear everything from the Medieval English song "Sumer Is Icumen In" from about 1260 to early Beethoven.

As next season has already been announced, some thought should be given to spreading out the musical eras for future seasons. After all, "summer has indeed arrived." July 14; Indiana History Center

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