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Hall column: Happy 20th anniversary, Carolina Baroque!

By Sarah Hall
Salisbury Post
On May 2, Carolina Baroque celebrated 20 years of making music in Salisbury.
Even though it was Carolina Baroque having the birthday, it was the audience who got the gift, an impressive sampler of instrumental and vocal pieces, both famous and lesser-known works by Baroque composers.
Music director and recorder player Dale Higbee selected a program encapsulating the Baroque era, progressing chronologically through the early, middle and high Baroque with works of Monteverdi, Vivaldi, Handel and J.S. Bach.
Sopranos Mary Mendenhall and Teresa Radomski were featured, joining a strong ensemble of instrumentalists: John Pruett, Greg Pannell and Nicolae Soare on baroque violins, Marian Wilson on baroque viola, Holly Maurer playing viola da gamba, and Susan Bates on harpsichord.
Due to the construction of baroque instruments and with less tension on the bows, the ensemble has a gentler sound than groups of modern instruments. Playing without amplification, they provide a welcome relief in this microphone-laden world. The acoustics and size of the chapel at St. John’s Lutheran Church make it ideal for a concert of this type. Except its close proximity to West Innes Street makes it vulnerable to the occasional loud muffler or overly-booming bass of a car radio passing by, briefly jerking the listener out of the past and into the present.
The program began with excerpts from Monteverdi’s “L’Orfeo: Favola in Musica” of 1607, regarded by many as the first of what would come to be called “opera.” The well-known opening Toccata, more familiar to listeners as a flourish of brass and timpani, got much different treatment in the intimate instrumentation of Carolina Baroque, where recorder substituted for trumpet. and a lightly stroked field drum underscored the opening rhythm.
Radomski and Mendenhall took turns at first, in excerpts from L’Orfeo and other songs by Monteverdi. This gave the audience a chance to fully appreciate their individual gifts and to compare their different but equally wonderful voices before they would come together later in glorious duet.
Midway through the program, the sopranos rested as Bates performed the brief and delightful solo harpsichord work “A Voluntary or a Flight of Angels” in C Major” followed by the instrumental ensemble’s lively rendition of the Vivaldi Concerto in B flat major, RV 548. The sprightly work gave Pruett an opportunity to particularly shine, making even the most intricate runs appear effortless.
Excerpts from Handel’s “Julius Caesar in Egypt” supported Higbee’s opinion, offered before the performance, that “the voice is the greatest instrument.” The sopranos effectively portrayed Cleopatra and Caesar in the work written during a time when men with high voices always sang the romantic male lead.
The highest point of the program was the sopranos final duet of the evening, from Handel’s “Sosarme.” The blend of Radomski’s and Mendenhall’s voices was ideal and resulted in thrilling moments of concord.
Theirs was a hard act to follow, but the instrumentalists stepped up to the challenge, capping off the 20 years with Bach’s popular Concerto in c minor, BMV 1060.

Contact Sarah Hall at 704-797-4271 or shall@salisburypost.com.

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