Going for Baroque: Ars Lyrica's Musical Alchemy

Chances are you've heard of Bach's "Brandenburg" Concerto No. 5, but what about Janitsch's Quadro "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden"? Ars Lyrica Houston brings those and two other rarely performed works to the stage for Musical Alchemy this weekend.

The ALH musicians perform on baroque period instruments, making this "Brandenburg" 5 different from any other you might have heard. "These are unusual instruments," Matthew Dirst, ALH's artistic director, tells us. "They're kind of exotic; the music, the sounds they make, are quite enticing."

Dirst, who plays the harpsichord, will be in the spotlight during the "Brandenburg" 5, which includes an extended solo. "It's great fun to play. I really get a visceral charge doing something as active as "Brandenburg" 5 that requires you to play literally thousands of notes in a very short space of time. It all kind of races by. It's quite exhilarating. It's great stuff."

Janitsch's Quadro "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden," a quartet, has some unusual instrumentation. "One usually thinks of a quartet being four strings, but this is a quadro for violin, oboe, viola and continuo by a composer no one's ever heard of, Janitsch, who was Frederick the Great's personal composer and bass player in his court."

Promotional material for the concert says the program will include "a taste of the supernatural." Dirst won't go quite that far, saying, "That's in part marketing hype, but it's not far off the mark. We're doing a suite from Fairy Queen, a kind of semi-opera by Purcel, which is music made to accompany Shakespeare's play of the same name, and it does deal with some rather fantastical creatures."

And finally there's Johann Christian Bach's Quintet in D major, Op. 22, No. 1. (No, not that Bach, the other one.) "He's the so-called London Bach," says Dirst. "He was Bach's youngest son, who wrote in a very different style from his father. He went to London to be an opera composer and he wrote elegant chamber works at the same time. So we're doing a quintet by him, which is another kind of rarity that you don't hear every day.

Joining Dirst will be Ingrid Matthews, whom he calls "one of the world's best baroque violinists." Two ALH regulars also appear, recorder and oboe virtuoso Katharine Montoya and baroque flautist Colin St. Martin.

On Saturday, Ars Lyrica performs Musical Alchemy at 7:30 p.m. at the Hobby Center, 800 Bagby. On Sunday, at 7 p.m. at San Jacinto College, 8060 Spencer Highway, Pasadena. On Monday, at 7:30 p.m. at The Centrum, 6823 Cypresswood. For information, visit www.arslyricahouston.org.

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