The spacious Grand Salon of the HMS Queen Mary witnessed more than its share of bands entertaining diners and dancers during the heyday of ocean travel.
But times have changed--and so has the music. On Sunday, an audience of 500 boarded the landlocked liner for an evening of 18th-Century salon pieces played by the East Coast-based Aulos Ensemble, as part of the Chamber Music in Historic Sites series.
Just as the Queen Mary once traveled between continents, the Aulos--Anne Briggs, Baroque flute; Linda Quam, Baroque violin; Myron Lutzke, Baroque cello, and Charles Sherman, harpsichord--set out on its own journey through the musical horse latitudes between the end of the Baroque and the start of the Classical eras.
In two sonatas by J.C.F. Bach, two trio sonatas by J. S. Bach, a charming violin sonata (K. 296) by Mozart and a tuneful trio by Haydn, the Aulos offered works that were forgotten as soon as they ended. And the musicians seldom elevated these trifles above the routine.
Battling constant tuning problems--and a constant electrical hum that never quite matched Baroque pitch--the players delivered competent, characterless performances. Embellishment proved all but absent and muddy phrasing was all-too-often present.
Compounding the problem was the inescapable wrongness of the setting. Though the acoustics were acceptable, the odd mix of Greek mythological wall decorations, wood-veneer columns and paneling, not to mention the huge painting of upper-crust Englishmen at the hunt (which served as a gaudy backdrop for the concert), all proved major distractions.
Hostess MaryAnn Bonino made a tongue-in-cheek rationalization for this strange blend by remarking to her audience, “If Bach had known about the Queen Mary, he would have been here.”
And left early.