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Monday, Dec. 6, 2010

Ensemble Musical Offering Goes Back to Bach

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After the highly successful “In Harmony: At Home With Biedermeier” series of concerts consisting of Classical and early Romantic chamber pieces, Ensemble Musical Offering’s Artistic Director Joan Parsley looked forward to a different kind of homecoming.

“I missed the Baroque; I missed my soul mate, J.S. Bach, and so did our core group of musicians,” she says.

Thus, Ms. Parsley and her group of musicians (gleaned from the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra, Ballet Orchestra, UW-Milwaukee staff and others) take concertgoers to “Bach and His Seasonal Circle,” featuring, as Ms. Parsley asserts, “some of the most popular as well as brilliant musical compositions in the Baroque genre.”

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) appears via his Concerto for Two Violins and Strings in D Minor, BWV 1043 (1731) that, like all Bach concertos, has Vivaldi as its point of departure. Bach was sublimely capable of lyricism, warmth and gentleness—never more so than in the middle movement of BWV 1043 with its Siciliano rhythm. On either side of this blissful largo we experience Bach the commanding contrapuntalist displaying his mastery of synthesis.

Unlike the famously productive Bach, Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713) produced relatively little. Alas, what was to be his most famous work wasn’t published until after his death. These are the 12 concerti grossi of Opus 6—glorious music that led 18th-century music historian Charles Burney to use such words as “pure,” “rich” and “grateful” in their description. Easily the best known of the 12 is the Concerto Grosso No. 8 in G Minor, subtitled Fatto per la notte di Natale and known ever since as Corelli’s Christmas Concerto. The highlight of this concerto is the fifth and final movement—an allegro with a lovely and gently rolling Pastorale ad libitum at its heart.

Corelli’s somewhat younger contemporary Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) is widely regarded as the master of the Baroque instrumental concerto. Of the vast quantity in his output, the best-known and most characteristic works are the four concertos of Opus 6, collectively called Le Quattro Stagioni (The Four Seasons). Certainly apropos, Ensemble Musical Offering will be performing L’inverno (Winter), the bleakness and dissonance of which creates a severe but expressive portrait, providing a striking summation to the four season-themed works.

Finally, Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) is represented on the concert program by his brief, four-movement Concerto Polonois in G Major for Strings and Basso Continuo, TWV 43:G7, a work comprising Polish folk rhythms in honor of Telemann’s employer, the elector of Saxony (who was also king of Poland).

Ensemble Musical Offering performs all four of these works Dec. 11 at the Wauwatosa Woman’s Club and Dec. 12 at the Cathedral Church of All Saints.

Also Dec. 11, Early Music Now welcomes the male vocal sextet Lionheart for a concert titled “Tydings Trew: Feasts of Christmas in Medieval England.” The festivities recreate the celebration of the nativity in the manner of 15th- and 16th-century English cloister, palace and street with chants, motets and carols. This concert takes place at the Basilica of St. Josaphat.