August 2011 Convention
Charlotte, NC

Early Music Gala

Through the generosity of Amy Rice Blumenthal, the NFA was able to hold all of its evening Gala Concerts in the beautiful Belk Theater several blocks from the Charlotte Convention Center and NFA hotels. The modern hall has traditional styling and excellent acoustics and feels like an early 20th-century space.

Rachel Brown

Despite the size of the hall, British Baroque flutist Rachel Brown projected without effort. She has a surprisingly resonant sound. Her partner was harpsichordist Shalev Ad-El, who enlivened the continuo parts without upstaging Brown. She is an eloquent advocate for the Quantz Sonatas, many of which she has unearthed and made available in scholarly modern editions and recordings. Two such sonatas served as bookends for her half of the concert. Both take a three-movement form typical of north Germany. The Sonata in G Minor starts with a long, melancholy, and florid Affettuoso ma mesto, punctuated by dotted rhythms. The ensuing Allegro is in a stormy style, and the sonata concludes with lyrical and steady Moderato.

The Sonata in E-flat that concluded her half displays Quantz’s distinctive penchant for flat keys, unlike most baroque flute pieces that keep to D major and related keys. Brown had no trouble handling its challenges and brought to it energy and assertiveness.

In between the Quantz pieces was the J.S. Bach Partita in A Minor, a courageous choice given that we all know it and given its supreme challenges on the traverso. It drew the biggest admiration from the audience. A major challenge is breathing, and Brown succeeded in integrating her breathing with phrasing so that it escaped notice. She took all of the repeats, allowing her to display endless invention in improvised ornamentation. This was most effective in the Bourrée Anglaise, where the fireworks reached their climax.

Eva Amsler

The second half of this concert featured the Dorian Consort and its flutist Eva Amsler. Support from the Swiss Culture Foundation made this magical performance possible. The Consort members play modern instruments, Amlser a Böhm-system wooden flute, but with as much sensitivity to baroque style and sound as any performers on period instruments. The Consort’s program juxtaposed Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 with his Suite in B Minor. The group approached both pieces more as chamber than as orchestral music, with one string player per part, and everyone standing except cello, bass, and harpsichord. Tempos were brisk, and there was lively sense of interplay, especially between flute and violin in the Brandenburg. It was a supreme pleasure to hear these two grand works under the best conditions.

—Leonard Garrison