The Salish Sea Early Music Festival
A Journey with Dr. Burney

Date and Venue March 4, 2020 at 7:30pm | Knox United Church, 5600 Balaclava St., Vancouver

Cello Susie Napper Harpsichord Hans-Jurgen Schnoor Baroque Flute Jeffrey Cohan

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

March in North America is Early Music month and what better way to start it than with a European grand tour, or rather, since this concert is organized around the research journeys of an eminent musicologist rather than a young dilettante, a study tour. Charles Burney travelled to Europe in 1772 and 1774 to dig out material for a projected work on the History of Music and in the course of his journeys met almost everyone who was anybody in the intellectual circles of France, Italy, Germany and the Netherlands. He found music wherever he went. This gives a treasury of starting points to build a concert around. Handel, the Bach family, Quantz, the Mozarts, father and son, Gluck, Metastasio, Benda, How to choose amongst such a plethora of possibilities.

However they did it, the trio of Jeffrey Cohan, Susie Napper and Hans-Jurgen Schnoor distilled an elegant evening's entertainment. Cheating a little they began much earlier in time and in the English port of Chester where Burney was still a boy at school and Handel was waiting for the ferry to Ireland. Suzie read one of Burney's anecdotes about Handel from that time, with a little assistance from Schnoor as Handel, and they began the concert with his Sonata in E minor, Opus 1, No. 1a.

What was immediately noticeable was the warmth and rapport amongst the three musicians who seemed to enjoy Handel's every note and phrase whether sinking into the velvet of the opening Adagio or enthusiastically leaping into his playful Allegros.

Crossing the sea to France, they visited Rameau as Burney relates he did in 1764. While the opening Sonata was written for flute by Handel himself, transcriptions for other instruments were extremely common in the 18th century, sometimes made by the composer, sometimes by publishers both scrupulous and not, and by players for their own ensembles. Following in this tradition, Jeffrey Cohan has transcribed 4 selections from Rameau's Castor et Pollux. All dance movements, minuets, a loure, a gay gavotte, they embody the French style, refined, elegant, eminently danceable and tuneful yet full of surprises.

Onward from France to Germany, more specifically to Prussia and the court of Frederick the Great. Hugely ambitious and very talented, Frederick had pretentions to being a musician. It is impossible to tell at this distance in time how good he really was or might have been if undistracted by governing duties, but his Sonata 190 in C minor was the only disappointment of the evening. Pedestrian after Rameau's celestial airyness, even excellent playing with sensitive ornamentation from flute and accompaniment combined couldn't lift the music beyond the pleasing.

A trip to Italy came next to hear Vivaldi's Cello Sonata No. 3 in A minor. Dr.Burney observed that the Venetians thought Vivaldi was insane, remarking in good Protestant tones that he was as insane a musician as Galileo was a heretic. Susie Napper showed no sign of insanity but every sign of being a master of the cello. A truly singing cantabile and fleet passagework complemented each other with warmth and brilliance. She had an ideal partner in Hans-Jurgen Schnoor on harpsichord who filled out the texture, enriched the sound, and augmented the emotions. Then north to Austria and Haydn and a solo keyboard Sonata from Schnoor, played with crystalline clarity and a fine focus.

Haydn's music is so drawing one always wants more. This is undoubtedly why the trio finished with more Haydn, a trio Sonata in C major, Op. 3, No. 2, transcribed by Cohan for flute rather than violin. It suited this fine and fluent ensemble perfectly.

© 2020 Elizabeth Paterson