The term “baroque” stems from the Portuguese word barroco, meaning an irregular, oddly shaped pearl. In popular parlance it is used to describe elaborate ornamentation in the arts, including the cutting edge of a classical music period from roughly 1600 to 1750, when many of the fundamentals that continue to enrich the tapestry of sound, from fugues to improvisation, were established.
This weekend’s SPCO concert program brilliantly weaves together works from both living composers and those from the latter stage of the baroque era to highlight the splendor of sound — instrumental vibration exquisite enough to approach the spiritual or otherwise ethereal dimension.
The baroque pieces bookend the concer, beginning with Henry Purcell’s “Chacony in G Minor.” According to Daniel Felsenfeld’s excellent program notes, Purcell makes ample use of “a systematic repetition of a single chord progression over which variation are built” — a common trope of the baroque form — “to amass and remove a pealing tapestry of lustrous sound.” Hear for yourself here.
Next up is “Tabula Rasa,” a 1977 piece by the 75-year old Estonian composer Arvo Part that is an early example of what Part calls his “tintinnabulation” method, which maintains the presence of an unchanging triad throughout the piece. Part likens this recurrent three-note figure to bells, lending both warmth and spirituality despite the inherent drawbacks of repetition. Written at the same time that modern classical composers such as Steve Reich and Terry Riley were first gaining purchase, the 26-minute piece has some of the same hypnotic magnetism. It is divided into two movements — “Ludus” and “Silentium” — which Felsenfeld accurately says “simply build up in the first and ebb back in the second,” while also accurately adding “the music, by way of its pacing, thrust, and sheer ecstatic ebb and flow, is itself a musico-spiritual experience.” Here is an excerpt from “Ludus.”
The 51-year old Scottish composer James MacMillan, a devout Catholic, meant his eight-minute piece “Kiss on Wood” to be “an ornamental and highly elongated paraphrase on the Good Friday versicle…This is sung as the crucifix is slowly unveiled and before people are invited forward to kiss the wood of the cross.” But MacMillan adds that the piece “can equally represent a gesture of love on the wooden instruments making this music.” He wrote it for violin and piano but the SPCO will perform the 2008 rearrangement for cello and strings by Swedish composer Ingvar Karkoff.
The program concludes with the “Suite from Les Boreades” by the great baroque composer Jean-Phillipe Rameau, a collection of 13 pieces from his opera that was first performed after his death. Here is a lyrical four-minute excerpt. Rameau is renowned for his compositions for harpsichord and this weekend’s SPCO performances are conducted by Henry Bicket, who in addition to being artistic director of The English Concert is the organist who performed at the wedding of Sarah Ferguson and Prince Andrew. The violinists Ruggero Allifranchini and Sunmi Chang and cellist Daniel Lee are also featured.
The SPCO: Bicket Does Baroque and Beyond, today and tomorrow at 8 p.m. at the Ordway Center and 2 p.m. Saturday at the Ted Mann Auditorium. Tickets are $10-$40.