Trio Amsterdam, which comprises Mimi Mitchell (baroque violin), Christina Edelen (harpsichord) and Bert Honig (recorders), performed yesterday at the Museum of Fine Arts – Houston branch called Rienzi, located in a palatial River Oaks estate where the setting truly reminded me of some of the palaces I performed in in Europe 33 years ago, from the elaborate decorations to the paintings on the wall to the chandelier in the middle of the room. Mimi and Christina, both Americans, are former colleagues of mine, so once again, this is not intended as a review. Suffice it to say that their performance was at the highest level, and that I envy Bert Honig (the only member who is Dutch) his complete mastery of the recorder.
The literature chosen for the concert, spanning approximately the century from 1650 to 1750, included several Dutch composers, but also composers who were not themselves from Netherlands but lived there, worked there and/or were regularly published there. The concert was a reminder that Amsterdam is, and has been for centuries, a cultural center of the highest order. (A former barber I used to go to years ago insists Amsterdam is also the place to go to get quality grass without being hassled by cops or courts. Personally, I wouldn’t know; I’ve never used the stuff. And Amsterdam’s red light district is legendary. Again, I have no personal knowledge of that. I’ll have to make do with an appreciation of the culture. 😈 )
Back to the music. Some of the composers have names that may be familiar to you… Pietro Locatelli (mostly 18th century) and perhaps the most famous Dutch composer of all time, organist Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (turn of the 17th century). Other composers were less familiar, though some are well-known to early music aficionados; among those are François Dieupart (ca 1667 – ca 1740) and Johannes Schenck (1660–1712). Schenck (also spelled Schenk) is known for having written the first opera in Dutch. Dieupart flourished around the turn of the 18th century in London, but his music was published in Amsterdam.
The Dieupart work Bert Honig chose was a suite for “voice flute” and basso continuo (look it up) in A major, an archetypal French suite, sweet and slightly sad to the modern ear. If you’ve never heard a “voice flute” (a recorder in D, slightly smaller than the modern tenor in C, but with more of the focus of tone and agility of response of an alto recorder in F), you must immediately find a source and listen. (Here on YouTube is a Dieupart work very similar to the one Honig performed, apparently another in the same published set, though this recording is a bit stiff compared to Honig’s performance.) If you’ve ever thought of recorder as a school kid’s chirpy noisemaker, the voice flute will disabuse you of that notion. And Honig was superb on it. Some say, incorrectly, that the recorder cannot be played with dynamics (loud and soft, crescendo and decrescendo) without going out of tune; Honig, like most Dutch-trained serious recorder players, emphatically disproves that notion, commanding fully the French baroque idiom, including suitable dynamics and the French ornaments (flattement, battement and port de voix) when appropriate. The effect was moving; during one Sarabande, I was almost in tears.
In focusing on Honig, I don’t mean to slight Ms. Mitchell or Ms. Edelen; both are artists of the highest order. It’s just that as a retired serious recorder player, I am better equipped to appreciate great recorder playing.
The concert, both performers and audience members, was a sort of “old home week” for me; I saw many of my former students and a couple of colleagues from the old days. I’m afraid life is going to seem somewhat dull for a few days now!