Ensemble Chaconne: European Masters in 18th Century England

There were so many concerts going on this afternoon that it was hard to pick one. I ended up going to hear Ensemble Chaconne, a HIP baroque trio, at the the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in Midtown who played a program that focused on the concert music that could be heard in Restoration period London. The trio consisted of a flautist, a bass gambist, and a lutist who doubled on English guitar. Each of the three at some point introduced the works being performed and, at times, spoke about the history of their instruments, adding a bit of welcome context to the music.

They packed a large number of smaller works into a one-hour concert, most of which consisted of a single movement. They started off with Handel’s Hallenenser sonata no. 1, which was pleasant, and then moved into Vivaldi’s flute concerto in D major, which was exceptional. I had never heard it played in such a small ensemble and I think that there was a certain lilting charm to it that is lost when it is orchestrated for larger groups. Next were a pair of solos for viola da gamba in d minor by Carl Friedrich Abel. I don’t think that I’ve ever heard a solo piece for viola da gamba before and I think that this may have been the most technically impressive work that I’ve ever heard for the instrument (at least to my untrained ear).

After this, the lute was put away in favor of the English guitar. Although I’m aware of the instrument and feel like I must have heard it at some point, I am fairly certain that I haven’t heard it played live before. The sound is enjoyable, being a little stronger than a mandolin but not quite as full bodied as the Spanish guitar. The trio played through a series of six pieces with this instrument with a pause between the fourth and fifth. The first four included “When Sable Night” by Thomas Linley, Sr., “Sweetest Bard” by Ignatius Sancho, “Presto” by Anne Ford, and “Che ciascun per te sospiri” by J.C. Bach. Particularly interesting to me were the middle two, both of which were for solo English guitar, less because of the music (though it was certainly enjoyable) and more because of the composers. Ignatius Sancho was, among other remarkable things, the first Black person to vote in an English election. Anne Ford, as the name implies, was a woman. Although there have been a number of both Black and women composers of classical music in all periods since the beginning of the common practice period, they are frequently ignored after they have died, even if they were popular in their day. Not only because of the rarity but also because they were enjoyable, I’m glad to have had the opportunity to hear works from these two composers and grateful to the Ensemble Chaconne for making it possible.

The series of works including English guitar concluded with Rudolf Straube’s fantasie for English guitar in C major followed by the only multi-movement piece including the instrument on the program, Felice de Giardini’s trio V in C major. The concert concluded with Johann Christian Fischer’s sonata IX in D minor, which ended with a delightful minuet that planted a smile on my face as I walked out of the cathedral. It was definitely a good concert and I really appreciated the thoughtful programming and commentary that was provided with it.

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