Early Music Society of the Islands: The Fleeting Armada: Music of Renaissance England and Spain
When/where: Saturday, 8 p.m., Alix Goolden Hall; pre-concert talk at 7: 10 p.m.
Tickets: Adults $27, seniors and students $24, members $20. Call 250-386-6121; online at rmts.bc.ca; in person at the Royal and McPherson box offices, Munro's Books, and Ivy's Bookshop
Victoria Symphony (Classics Series): Vivaldi Concertos, with Elizabeth Wallfisch, conductor and violin
When/where: Sunday, 2: 30 p.m., Farquhar Auditorium (University Centre, University of Victoria)
Tickets: $35-$55. Call 2507218480; online at tickets.uvic.ca; in person at the UVic ticket centre
The 28th season of the Early Music Society of the Islands will begin Saturday evening with the Fleeting Armada, a diverse program of songs and instrumental chamber music drawn mostly from late-Renaissance England and Spain and performed by four early-music specialists based in Seattle.
Inspired by England's naval victory over Spain in 1588, and the resulting vogue for Spanish motifs in Elizabethan culture, the program will sample works by more than 15 composers, known and anonymous, most of whom flourished in the late 16th and early 17th centuries, including some obscure Spaniards but also some major English figures - Campion, Dowland, Farnaby and Morley. (A couple of the songs - Dowland's Flow, My Tears, Morley's O Mistress Mine - rank among the greatest hits of their day.)
Central to the program is one particularly influential Iberian import: the "folia," a flexible musical formula that was most often used as a subject for variations.
Apparently originating in a 15th-century Portuguese dance, the folia formula became popular all over Europe, and remained so through the early 18th century. Saturday's program will include early folia pieces from Spain and England, as well as two familiar later specimens: the last of Corelli's Op. 5 violin sonatas and an aria from Bach's Peasant Cantata.
(The folia never quite disappeared, incidentally: Rachmaninoff's last solopiano work, from 1931, for instance, was a set of variations inspired by Corelli's sonata.)
The program was conceived by Linda Tsatsanis, a Canadian-born soprano who began her professional life with the Elmer Iseler Singers in Toronto, but now maintains a diverse career that includes plentiful work in early music, including opera. In The Fleeting Armada, she says, she has sought "a beautiful balance between the sweet melancholy of the English and the passion of the Spanish."
On Saturday, Tsatsanis will be joined by her husband, Nathan Whittaker, on bass violin; violinist Tekla Cunningham; and Stephen Stubbs, on lute and guitar.
Stubbs, the most distinguished of the four, has been on the international early-music scene since the mid-1970s, as a performer, conductor, opera director, impresario and teacher. (He returned to his native Seattle in 2006 after more than 30 years based in Europe.)
The four musicians have performed with each other in various configurations before, and all are members of the Seattle Baroque Orchestra, though Saturday's performance will mark their debut as a quartet, and the debut of The Fleeting Armada - a nice coup for EMSI, whose unusually rich 2011-12 season set a very high bar.
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The launch of the Victoria Symphony's 2012-13 Classics Series on Sunday afternoon will also offer a varied program of early music, and feature an important figure in the period-instrument movement: the Australian-born violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch, who is visiting from London to lead the orchestra and perform as a soloist in several concertos.
Vivaldi is the headliner here, represented by two works: a concerto for two violins from the seminal collection L'estro armonico, Op. 3 (also featuring Victoria Symphony concertmaster Terence Tam), and a concerto for multiple soloists that will see Wallfisch joined by paired oboes and horns. (Her large discography, incidentally, includes concertos from L'estro armonico, recorded with the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra.)
But this is also one of those Classics Series programs - the Victoria Symphony has lately offered at least one each season - that draws generously on less familiar repertoire from largely forgotten 18th-century composers, always with stimulating results. Sunday's program, indeed, ranges widely enough to offer a kind of musical tour of Europe in the late-Baroque and early-Classical periods.
It includes an Italianate concerto from the early 1700s by German composer and theorist Johann David Heinichen, who encountered Vivaldi in Venice, and two four-movement symphonies in fashionable styles from the mid-1700s, one by Georg Christoph Wagenseil, a Viennese composer central to the development of the Classical style, the other by Leopold Mozart, who was based in Salzburg and whose considerable creative achievements have regrettably been overshadowed by his status as the father of you-know-who.
And speaking of prodigies, the program will also include an overture by Thomas Linley the Younger, a musical wunderkind of immense promise whose death in a boating accident in 1778, at age 22, has been described as "one of the greatest losses that English music has suffered."
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