Three Bs

Not only are the Bears in the playoffs, but we got to hear some Schmelzer this week, which is just about as rare.

That (the Schmelzer, at least) is thanks to the Bach and Beethoven Ensemble, a small local group that specializes in early music on period instruments. Monday’s concert at the Cultural Center’s Preston Bradley Hall was of Italian music (the Austrian Schmelzer was made an honorary Italian for the occasion), and it was a delight.

The Schmelzer began with a lovely set of variations above a ground bass, then became more solo-with-accompanists in style, showcasing the violin. From there we plunged into a contrapuntal display by Biagio Marini, with violinist Brandi Berry and cellist Anna Steinhoff trading motifs, Steinhoff striding quite independently. Berry described the following piece, by Marco Uccellini, as like “a baroque soap opera” due to its shifting moods and harmonies. The group ably brought out its distinct eccentricity.

The choice to perform Corelli’s Opus 5 No. 3 sonata without the harpsichord was inspired (and no knock on harpsichordist Mark Shuldiner). You might think it would sound bare-bones, but no, it was very full; Steinhoff was both a sensitive accompanist and an equal partner.

Shuldiner got his chance to shine in a Frescobaldi toccata, and Corelli’s variations on “La Follia” concluded the show. Both Berry and Steinhoff handled the virtuoso challenges with style, but it was a variation near the end of the piece that was especially striking: Shuldiner dropped out, the tempo eased and Berry produced a haunting, mysterious sound above Steinhoff’s quiet tread. Magic.

Happy New Year, indeed!

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