Valentin Radu's Vox Ama Deus empire stretches across a wide swath of musical terrain:
— The Vox Renaissance Consort is a small chorus that sings Renaissance music in costume.
— The Camerata Ama Deus is a chamber orchestra that plays period and modern instruments, as the occasion demands.
— The Amadeus Ensemble combines a full-size chorus with an expanded orchestra built around the Camerata, and presents large scale works like Bach's Mass in B Minor and Verdi's Requiem.
Like all musical organizations, Radu's creation has its strengths and weaknesses. But in one area it consistently produces totally satisfying evenings. You can be certain you'll get your money's worth when Radu leads the Camerata through a Baroque period instrument concert.
Radu's recent all-Handel concert at St. Joseph's continued his string of winners. Radu enhanced the period atmosphere with unpredictable, frequently amusing comments from the podium that added an appropriate touch of informality. Most Baroque orchestral pieces would have been performed in private princely halls— aristocratic venues that would actually have been more informal and relaxed than our public concert halls.
A broken string during the opening suite added to the good-natured informality. But the incident also included a demonstration of smooth professionalism. The violinist with the injured instrument retreated to a side room to repair the damage and another player slipped into his position without any indication that she might be tackling something she hadn't rehearsed.
The venue makes a difference
The program proceeded through five concertos and suites without a break for intermission. The big, resonant sound in the unison passages was a reminder that Baroque instruments can sound just as powerful as modern instruments when you hear them in a hall of the appropriate size. The allegros moved along at a good Baroque clip, and the slow movements sounded properly dreamy and gently pulsating.
In Handel's B Flat Violin Concerto, concertmaster Thomas DiSarlo produced a slow movement that sounded somber but active, and a final allegro that maintained a virtuoso tempo without overdoing it.
Stronger with age
The pièce de résistance was the grand finale, Handel's trumpet suite in D Major, with Elin Frazier as soloist. I've listened to Frazier for 35 years, and time ought to be showing its effects, given the physical demands her instrument imposes on its acolytes. Instead, Frazier keeps getting stronger.
I first encountered the Baroque trumpet more than 50 years ago in recordings that featured the first trumpet stars of the Baroque revival, Roger Voisin and Maurice Andre. Frazier studied with Voisin before she entered Curtis, and you could hear his same silvery brilliance from her first notes of the suite's overture.
Frazier springs from a school that combines nuanced musical lines with the brilliance and dash that give the trumpet its special place in ceremonial events. Radu summed up the overall effect when he promised— correctly— that the audience members would all go home feeling enhanced and enriched when the concerto ended.