Classical Music: Violinist goes for broad program in baroque festival

What: Pacific Baroque Festival.
When/where: Thursday Feb. 7, refreshments 10 a.m., concert 11 a.m., Alix Goolden Hall; Feb. 7, 8 p.m., Christ Church Cathedral; Friday Feb. 8 and Saturday Feb. 9, 8 p.m., AGH; Sunday, 4:30 p.m., CCC; evenings, pre-concert talk at 7:15.
Tickets: Thursday Feb. 7, adults $25, seniors and students $20; Friday Feb. 8 and Saturday Feb. 9, $30/$25; Sunday, by donation; festival pass $100/$80. Call 250-386-5311; online at ticketfly.com; in person at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, Ivy’s Bookshop, Long & McQuade, Tanner’s Books, Munro’s Books and the cathedral office.
Program details: pacbaroque.com/festival.

The Pacific Baroque Festival, which begins Feb. 7, is marking its 15th anniversary this year, as well as its first incarnation as part of the Pacific Baroque Series, a collaboration with Christ Church Cathedral and Early Music Vancouver that was launched last summer.

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Violinist Marc Destrubé, a Victoria native who lives in Vancouver and has been artistic director of the PBF from the beginning, returns again to perform and to direct the festival’s house orchestra, which this year comprises 15 musicians from Victoria, Vancouver and Seattle.

In honour of the anniversary, Destrubé has opted for conspicuously broad rather than narrowly focused programming, effectively summarizing the whole range of music the festival has offered over the years. The repertoire is drawn mostly from the century spanning the highly experimental idioms of the early 17th century and the heyday of the High Baroque, though it touches on other periods, too.

The programs are wide-ranging, geographically and stylistically, and include many interesting but under-appreciated composers alongside some big names, including Bach, appropriately: It was with an all-Bach concert that the PBF was launched, in 2005.

The first of the five concerts, this morning, is a showcase for La Modestine, which comprises four period-performance specialists from Victoria and Vancouver: Destrubé, violinist Linda Melsted, gambist Natalie Mackie and harpsichordist Michael Jarvis.

Their program, drawn from a huge and diverse manuscript collection that has been housed at a Swedish university since 1732, amounts to a primer on sonatas in the 17th century, when the sonata had no standardized form, and includes specimens by Rosenmüller, Rebel, Vierdanck, Erlebach, Becker and Schmelzer — the latter the closest thing to a familiar name here.

This evening, in Christ Church Cathedral, there will be an organ recital by John Walthausen, a young American organist and harpsichordist currently based in Pennsylvania. (He performed at the 2017 festival.) The title of a 17th-century French treatise, Harmonie universelle, gave Walthausen the theme for his program, which brings together music in various forms (toccata, fugue, duetto, psalm and chorale setting), by composers of various nationalities, including Reincken, d’Anglebert and Bach.

The program culminates in Buxtehude’s Te Deum laudamus, a grand, encyclopedic, virtuosic work based on a Gregorian chant in praise of God. Walthausen’s performance of it will be interspersed with plainchant sung by the Victoria Children’s Choir and the men of the St. Christopher Singers, one of Christ Church’s resident choirs.

Friday evening’s orchestral concert will focus on Bach’s practice of adapting his compositions to new performance contexts, and will include modern reconstructions of the original versions of two concertos that survive only in Bach’s arrangements for multiple harpsichords and orchestra — one a concerto for three violins, the other for violin and oboe. The latter will feature oboist Curtis Foster, who lives in Bellingham but is a regular member of the Victoria Baroque Players.

The program also includes adaptations of instrumental movements from cantatas and a string arrangement of a motet, as well as a suite for strings that was originally catalogued among Bach’s works but is in fact spurious (it may be the work of his eldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann).

On Saturday evening, the Victoria Children’s Choir, supported by the PBF’s ensemble, will reprise the work in which they made their festival debut in 2008: Vivaldi’s popular, festive Gloria. It will be a rare opportunity to hear this work sung by girls’ voices only, as it would have been performed at the all-female Venetian orphanage that employed Vivaldi for almost 40 years.

This concert will be filled out with instrumental works — concertos by Vivaldi, Albinoni, Charles Avison (based on keyboard sonatas by Scarlatti) and Baldassare Galuppi, a galant interloper at this Baroque party.

The festival will close, as usual, with an expanded version of Christ Church’s regular Sunday-afternoon Choral Evensong service, featuring the St. Christopher Singers and the orchestra. The music will be drawn mostly from the glorious body of anthems and other church pieces by Henry Purcell (who was the focus of the 2013 festival), including I was glad when they said unto me, his anthem for the coronation of James II in 1685, with a text taken from Psalm 122.

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