So most listeners already know about how Wagner referred to Beethoven’s “Symphony No. 7” as the “apotheosis of the dance.” But many listeners have given little thought as to how much of classical music – and most music in general – found the initial spark of inspiration in the impulse to dance. In fact, as the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra’s (LACO) keyboard player Patricia Mabee mentioned during their “Baroque Conversations 2” recital at Zipper Hall in downtown Los Angeles on Thursday, Baroque music was strongly rooted in dance forms.
Just think of the various suites by the likes of Bach and Handel and you’ll immediately understand: minuets, allemandes, sarabandes, gavottes, and their like – a veritable cross section of your Baroque era dance parties stuffed into every suite. If you’ve ever itched to dance along while listening to Jan Dismas Zelenka, now you know why. In fact, Alexander Borodin was said to be very fond of dancing along to Bach’s music – and who are we to argue with the composer of “Prince Igor”?
But the assembled members of LACO weren’t merely paying lip service to the dance hall roots of classical music. Their playing that evening was infused with a keen attention to keeping the rhythm springy.
Best example – and easily the evening’s highlight – was Mabee’s electrifying rendition of Antonio Soler’s “Fandango in D Minor.” Her light step but iron control drew the listener in with seductive pull of the dance. Soler’s work, influenced deeply by the music of Domenico Scarlatti, was a masterly evocation of the Spanish folk music of the composer’s day. Strumming guitars, chattering castanets and vigorous clapping of hands could all be heard in this outstanding work.
The gentle rusticity of the countryside was also recalled in a pair of Spanish works for solo guitar, the Pavanas and Canarios from the Instrucción de Musica Sobre la Guitarra Española by Gaspar Sanz. Guitarist John Schneiderman eloquent expression was a wonder, something to be savored and treasured.
At the close of the evening, the members of LACO assembled into a group on the corner of the Zipper’s stage and gave the audience an impression of what Baroque era dance was like. Trotting out on the stage were Jill Chadroff and Linda Tomko, decked out in period dress, presenting a selection of dances from Jean-Baptiste Lully, André Campra and Jean-Philippe Rameau. Basing their steps on original dance notation from the era, Chadroff’s and Tomko’s turn in the spotlight proved to be as illuminating as it was entertaining. Campra’s work, from a ballet called “L’Europe galante,” was especially charming with its characterizations of different European nations by way of their dances.
An excellent recital altogether, one of the finest of the season. Now, pardon me while I dust off my buckled shoes and powdered wig as I prepare to dance the night away at the local discotheque.