Let the Skirts and Wigs Fly

Montreal's Ensemble Caprice comes to town, with great stories and renditions of early music.

By - Mar 15th, 2018 12:56 pm
Ensemble Caprice. Photo courtesy of Early Music Now.

Ensemble Caprice. Photo courtesy of Early Music Now.

The Montreal-based group Ensemble Caprice presents “iLove Baroque” this Saturday as a part of the Early Music Now season.  The concert is billed as a program that “demonstrates the drama, tenderness, joy, humor, and melancholy of Baroque music.” Using love stories as a theme, the Ensemble will suggest threads in the music that link the composers to real life passions. Matthias Maute and Sophie Lariviere on recorders, will be joined by David Jacques on baroque guitar, Susie Napper on violincello and Ziyz Tabassian on percussion.

The concert will mix often familiar works with story-telling. Some examples:

Johann Sebastian Bach’s Chaconne for solo violin (BWV 1004) is a masterwork in its own right. But Maute will suggest how Bach was affected by the unexpected death of his first wife, Maria Barbara, when he wrote it. Melodic lines within the chaconne derived from Bach chorales suggest sentiments expressed in text of those chorales. Ensemble Caprice will play the Chaconne in an arrangement by Maute for two recorders and basso continuo — offering a very different listening experience as well.

Scandalized by a dance that occasionally exposed a dancer’s knees, the Catholic Church condemned a raucous Spanish dance called La Folia. But the popularity and energy of the dance entered the imagination of Baroque composers. Several followed Arcangelo Corelli’s lead, writing compositions as variations on the theme. Antonio Vivaldi wrote perhaps the liveliest version. The backstory? Ensemble Caprice explores the rumored relationship between Vivaldi and a young singer Anna Tessieri Girò, who would become his student, protégé and favorite prima donna. She and her sister Paolina traveled often with Vivaldi. Vivaldi, a priest without a parish, denied any relationship. Maute points out that rumors at the time were strong enough that a local archbishop forbad Vivaldi from entering his community to direct one of his operas.

Also on the program is music by Henry Purcell. The cause of his death has been open to speculation. No less an authority than Yahoo Answers! suggests that “one theory is that he caught a chill after returning late from the theatre one night to find that his wife had locked him out; another is that he succumbed to chocolate poisoning; perhaps the most likely is that he died of tuberculosis.” It’s not clear to me how the chocolate poisoning story illuminates how we listen to selections by Purcell, but Maute argues that “music is not just music. It is part of human drama.”

There are other stories to share as well. Eight stories in all are introduced. Are the stories historically accurate? Maute acknowledges that this is “where fantasy kicks in. Music has a very poetic side and so does life. It’s not about bringing historic truth to the stage. It’s about music being a part of life and us being a part of music.”

With or without the stories, the Early Music Now audience will be treated to an ensemble known for their excellence with recorder music. One review in Toccata notes “the gripping, sleek and pulsing interpretation that holds the listener in its spell.” Another in Alte Musik Aktuell observes that “Vivaldi begins to dance, to whirl, and the skirts and wigs fly – this has strength, joy of life, inspiration, depth.”

Ensemble Caprice will perform at 5:00 p.m. at the UW-Milwaukee Zelazo Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, March 17. Early Music Now will also be holding its annual fund-raiser, a Silent Auction and Chocolate Reception. The Silent Auction begins at 3:00 p.m. and will conclude at the end of an extended concert intermission. Tickets may be purchased at the door or online. The program may also be viewed at that site.

Early Music Now will hold its last concert of the season on April 14 at St. Joseph Chapel. An a Capella group in residence at Windsor Castle, The Queen’s Six, will share music from the reign of Elizabeth I: “Sacred & Profane: Music of the Tudor and Jacobean Courts.”

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