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Mixed Company is written by Saint Paul Sunday staff, giving you a behind-the-scenes look at the show and the classical music they love. We welcome your online comments.

« "Time Unknown to Time Unknown" | Main | Rare sighting »

June 29, 2006

Shock of the Old

Attempts at historical accuracy can at times resemble the party game ?telephone?: one person whispers a simple phrase into another?s ear, and so on?ear to lips to ear around a circle of friends?until by degrees it mutates into something far more humorous or risqué® A trace of the original may survive in what is finally spoken aloud, but the contrast between starting point and endpoint usually reveals how easy it is for fact and meaning to go astray where human beings are concerned.

The absence of such garbling is just one reason why those performances that conjure the essential sound and feel of centuries-old music can be so transporting?as harpsichordist Jacques Ogg and flutist Wilbert Hazelzet remind us this week with works of Telemann and Bach. When artists with an exquisite grasp of early performance actually play instruments that could have been the composers? own, we hear something very close to what those composers? own audiences heard as well. (How their audiences listened relative to us is probably a different thing altogether.) It?s the aural equivalent of seeing once sooty frescoes restored to their former brilliance.

Except that in inspired performances of even very early works we find the original colors undimmed and the lines of communication unfrayed. The music just connects?as it always has?without the veils that can come to obscure other art forms over centuries. And when masters like Jacques and Wilbert offer it up, the experience can be just as exhilarating as hearing freshly composed music, taking us to zones where the ?shock of the new? might more precisely be called the shock of the old.

Posted by Vaughn Ormseth at June 29, 2006 6:32 PM