15th July, repeated 22nd July, 5th August 2007
The concert I’m going to review is, hopefully, not the concert that you’ll be attending on its repeat performance. The group’s soprano being ill, there was nobody to give the expected readings of Jefferson’s correspondence. As a result this was a purely instrumental performance. Kah-Ming Ng at the harpsichord was accompanied by violinists Richard Wade and Lara James; the latter hastily called up while recovering from a pretty extensive tour.
It’s a testament to Charivari Agreable’s skill, flexibility and repertoire that they managed to throw together almost literally at the last minute (the soprano had called at half past nine that morning) a programme that was, for the most part, interesting and varied. They’d even found time to print out an updated programme. Slightly less impressive was the attempt to stick, somewhat loosely, to the Jeffersonian theme. Bravely stepping up to the plate to give a little of the anticipated context, Ng and Wade cheerfully explained that the first American president would almost certainly have played the pieces we were hearing. Or at least have known about them. Or almost certainly have visited a country that the composer of the pieces had also visited at roughly the same time.
The intriguing thing about the programme was the time it spanned – mirroring Jefferson’s life it sat across the Baroque and Classical periods, making the point that the boundary between these two is – like any artistic period defined after the fact – somewhat fuzzy. The opening trio sonata by William Boyce was written in 1747 but could have come from much earlier, while earlier sonatas by Corelli displayed stylistic innovations that anticipated their successors.
The only misstep came with the inclusion of a very early Mozart Sonata – number 4 in E minor. Written when the composer was being touted about Europe as a child prodigy, this is not one of his better works. In fact it’s rather dull and repetitive, and while an extract would have made as interesting a bagatelle as the short violin duet that preceded it, the full-length version took up far more of the second half than its quality warranted.
Overall however this was, as usual, carefully selected, cerebral and entertaining stuff. Even without the full Jefferson readings it served as an entertaining reminder that the founders of America were intellectuals of their era, fully engaged with the cultural as well as the philosophical currents of the European enlightenment.