Program IV: Stylus Fantasticus - the free and fantastic style
This program traces the “Stylus Fantasticus” from its origins in seventeenth century Italy with Farina, Uccellini and Fontana, and its development in Austria by the great violinist-composers Pandolfi Meally, Albertini, Schmelzer and Biber. The musicians’ instrumental and improvisational agility is on display in this program of music performed in the “free and fantastic style". The improvised style of the violin is grounded by a colorful continuo team of baroque harp, baroque guitar, chittarone, harpsichord and organ, which employ a wide range of colors, textures, and sounds to accompany the violin.
Tekla Cunningham, violin
Maxine Eilander, baroque harp
Stephen Stubbs, lute, baroque guitar and chittarone
Henry Lebedinsky, harpsichord and organ
Read a review of this program below!
By Sharon Cumberland, Seattle Gay News
When I asked Stephen Stubbs what this title meant, he said that 'fantastic style' referenced a kind of improvisational imagination that characterizes music of the thirteen different composers whose work they played, including Farina, Fontana, Schmelzer, and Biber, who were born between 1550 and 1644. This overlaps with the early part of the baroque period - which extended from approximately 1600 to 1750 - and the music has an old feel to it, as if played in remote castles rather than gilded palaces. The musical forces that supported Tekla Cunningham's baroque violin and Director Stubbs' baroque guitar and six-foot chittarone (theorbo, archlute) - were the lovely baroque harp of Maxine Eilander and the stacked harpsichord and organ of Henry Lebedinsky. Except for the organ, all of the instruments are strings, whether plucked, bowed or strummed, and I had the feeling in several pieces that I was listening to a string quartet.
In the first half, the concert moved through compositions without stopping, as though one piece was the prelude to the next. The audience was awash with soft, melodic music that suddenly swirled and whirled, as though a peaceful walk through the woods was interrupted by the abrupt excitement of wind-torn leaves. I found myself resorting to metaphors as I listened, thinking of musical journeys that don't circle back on themselves, but that go on to different landscapes with every shift and change. This quality is what I suppose 'fantastic style' means - imaginary journeys of music that set the imagination free. Watching these marvelous musicians play their ancient instruments - all of which appear to belong in museums - added to the sense of being on a wonderful journey into the past that, by the virtuosity and scholarship of these performers, was brought into the present for the listener.
The second half of the program featured sonatas, partitas and toccatas that gave each instrument a chance to show its individuality and range of possibilities. I kept writing the word 'Charming!' in my program next to one piece after another. My favorite, however, was by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (1620-1680) - a lovely violin melody with variations and harpsichord accompaniment that kept increasing in speed, but that retained a sweetness that I found very moving. English major types like me use Shakespeare as an anchor to place other events and disciplines in time, so I was sad that the Bard, who died in 1616, would not have heard Schmelzer's music. And yet you and I get to hear this splendid music just because we live in the same city as Pacific MusicWorks! It was one of those concerts - so typical of this great group - that left me feeling enriched, entertained, and lucky.