Classically Speaking

Focusing on Haydn and Mozart, La Follia did a lovely job linking classical to baroque

Mining baroque from classical: La Follia
Mining baroque from classical: La Follia

Classically Speaking

First Presbyterian Church
Aug. 26

As an undergraduate, I majored in music theory, with harpsichord as my principal instrument. As is the case with any collegiate student of theory, I also practically minored in music history. This is why I can remember – with vivid clarity – my puzzlement when, during the repertoire selection process one semester, my professor suggested a Mozart sonata. "Mozart?" I exclaimed. "Why would I play Mozart on a harpsichord?" Ah, the blissfully ignorant days of the young undergraduate, when historical eras are neatly packaged and rounded to the nearest half-century.

But I doubt I'm alone in having been surprised by the image of Master Wolfgang at the keys behind the plectra (those tiny quill-like devices that pluck the harpsichord's strings) – which may be why La Follia Austin Baroque chose to dedicate a concert exclusively to the works of Haydn and Mozart, two composers usually associated with the neighboring classical period. During his preconcert speech, director/harpsichordist Keith Womer explained in succinct yet entertaining fashion the prevalence of baroque instruments well into the lives of Haydn and Mozart. Much in the vein of Texas Choral Consort's Viva L'Opera! concert opening last week (sans Bugs Bunny), his remarks set the tone for an informal experience with his ensemble – a lovely afternoon of six great works by even greater composers, perfectly set in the intimate, acoustically live sanctuary of First Presbyterian Church.

After opening with Mozart's rousing Epistle Sonata in C Major, the program moved back in time 15 years for Haydn's Flute Trio No. 9 in G Major. Though the latter was played beautifully by flautist Marcus McGuff, obvious intonation problems among the strings served to taint both performances to a certain degree. But just around the corner was the concert highlight: Haydn's Keyboard Concerto in D Major, with Womer at the harpsichord commanding the work with clear technical mastery. The sanctuary's acoustics proved splendid for featuring the often "dainty"-sounding instrument above the sizable orchestra. With much flash and fun (though some minor phasing issues), the performance was solid and enjoyable.

Although for me the three selections after intermission didn't quite live up to the ones preceding it, each had its high points. Mozart's Flute Quartet in D Major, though lengthy, featured impressive control and nuance by McGuff. Haydn's Baryton Trio in D Major was my second favorite piece overall, given its simple yet distinct architecture and the wonderfully informative remarks on the near-extinct baryton offered before it was played. Closing the concert was Mozart's Exsultate, jubilate, featuring soprano Gitanjali Mathur, whose fluid voice navigated Mozart's intricate melismatic passages with impressive dexterity.

It's been nearly 10 years since last I played the harpsichord. Thanks to La Follia, fond memories of those mysteries of musicology came rushing back last Sunday afternoon.

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Classically Speaking, La Follia Austin Baroque, Keith Womer, Marcus McGuff, Gitanjali Mathur

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