Homage to Catalonia

Joan Plana speaks several European languages, but his native language, Catalan, is unknown to the average American. He makes himself understood not only in excellent English, but in the language of music.

Plana was born and raised in the Lleida province of Catalonia, an autonomous community of Spain. Today this talented baroque violinist is based in New York City, but he’s recently been named concertmaster of Baroque Band so he’s now a Chicago regular. He created the program and was director of this season’s final Baroque Band concert. He conducted, from the violin, music by Vivaldi and composers influenced by Vivaldi on the first Friday of this month at the Augustana Lutheran Church, 5500 S. Woodlawn Ave.

Catalonia’s loss is our gain, as Plana offered a gripping performance. His rapid passages burned with intensity, his phrasing displayed perfect blooms and his quiet moments had listeners at the edge of their seats with craned heads poised to hear every sound. He is an artist who finds the truth in the music and conveys it with integrity. He displayed a particularly rich sound in Tessarini’s Violin concerto op. 1, no. 4 and enviable legatos in Vivaldi’s Concerto in A Major, RV 158.

Plana was also a splendid leader of the ensemble. His choice of program melded into a fine evening of music and his leadership yielded performances with good texture and clarity of sound.

He often shared the spotlight with his colleagues. He and Emily Dahl enhanced each other’s playing in Vivaldi’s Concerto for two violins, op. 3, no. 8, while Valentini’s Concerto for four violins spread the love even further throughout the ensemble. David Schrader’s harpsicord created punch in Albinoni’s Sonata a cinque.

Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in E minor, RV 273 was notable for the nice breathing spaces between the phrases as well as the perfectly understated approach to the middle movement. Before the players reached the final movement, a member of the audience was taken ill and the intermission began early so that medical personnel could render assistance. The second half of the program began with the final movement, which was given virtuosic treatment.

The Concerto Grosso, op. 6, no. 4 by Corelli was a great example of musical conversation, as the various musicians took turns with the melody and then passed it along. The interplay was marvelous with cellist Anna Steinhoff creating particularly lovely sound.