Review: Chamber Music Society

Dec. 12, Holy Comforter Episcopal Church

Concert audiences in Richmond, and many other American cities, might go years without being reminded that George Frideric Handel wrote music other than “Messiah.”

The most satisfying local reminder so far this century was an all-Handel program by a period-instruments troupe performing under the auspices of the Chamber Music Society of Central Virginia’s. No “Messiah,” and only a bit of another of Handel’s greatest hits, the “Water Music.”

Most of the program was given over to the composer’s concerti grossi, two of them from the Op. 6 set, arguably Handel’s most inspired and sophisticated orchestral music.

The Concerto grosso in A major, Op. 6, No. 11, would be the highlight of most any baroque program in which it figured, and certainly was on this occasion. Its exchanges between two lead violins and among larger string ensembles, often at high speed or with pronounced accenting, are challenging for performers and exhilarating for listeners. The Chamber Music Society group, led by violinist Martin Davids, delivered a brisk and highly expressive reading that earned an extended ovation.

The musicians were somewhat shakier in intonation and balance in the shorter, more darkly hued Concerto grosso in B minor, Op. 6, No. 12.

Flutist Mary Boodell, who serves as the society’s president as well as one of its regular performers, took the lead in the Concerto grosso in G major, Op. 3, No. 3, negotiating the speedy, heavily ornamented lead voice securely and more merrily than might be expected in such a test of technique.

The ensemble rounded of rounded out the program with movements from two other concerti grossi and with the the least blowsy, most “watery” of the three “Water Music” suites, the G major, played here by strings, oboes, bassoon, archlute and harpsichord, all attuned to its generally swaying, tidal rhythms and rather genteel treatment of popular baroque dances.

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