Tacoma’s Second City Chamber Series is a hidden gem – and even more so the two annual concerts in the Lakewold Gardens’ Wagner House. Where else around here can you hear fine chamber music so close you can see the performers breathe, and spend the intermission enjoying beautiful gardens or a glass of wine under an arbored terrace? Last week’s SCCS concert was a perfect fusion of the elegance of baroque music in a historic house and the coziness that comes from an audience of 50, most of whom know each other and the performers.
Called “Monticello,” the program was based on the notion of what Thomas Jefferson would have heard and played in his equally-beautiful gardenside manor 200 years ago. An amateur violinist and avid music collector, Jefferson hosted many concerts, and SCCS director Svend Rønning assembled a delightful program of the greatest hits of that day, played on period instruments with graceful flair by local musicians as well as John Carden, from Jefferson’s hometown of Charlottesville, Virginia.
After a rather bland, pedestrian opening of Benedetto Marcello’s cello sonata in G major (played by Meg Brennand with pleasantness but not a lot of variety), Carden launched into three arias by the English composer Henry Purcell. Carden takes attention away from his sweet but rather weak countertenor with some over-the-top dramatics (meaningful glances, wide eyes) that are nevertheless fun to watch. He also has a light but clear baritone, best in the upper regions and when his dramatics allow it to shine through strongly. “The Sparrow and the Gentle Dove” came tiptoeing with a pizzicato cello passacaglia and delicate ornaments.
As Carden progressed through the program to Handel, the singing grew stronger and the coloratura impressive, both baritone and countertenor flying agilely through sixteenth-note sequences with unflappable charm. Svend Rønning added highly musical obligato lines which covered a few missing harpsichord moments by Kathryn Habedank.
Habedank played some Rameau elegantly and wistfully, however, and the highlight of the concert was Rønning – always a joy to hear – diving into Corelli’s fantastical “La Folia” variations, by turns moody, wild and lightning-fast, along with Brennand on cello – and swinging through some Colonial-era fiddle tunes with luscious tone and swaying lilt.
The next SCCS concert at Lakewold features music of “Esterháza,” string quartet music written by Haydn and contemporaries. 7:30 p.m. July 28 (gates open 7 p.m., food and drink allowed on the terrace). $32/$29/$10. Lakewold Gardens, 12317 Gravelly Lake Dr., Lakewood. 253-572-TUNE, www.scchamberseries.org
The Second City folks are also playing a free concert at 5:30 p.m. Aug. 13 for the Fircrest Fun Days at Fircrest Park, 555 Contra Costa Ave., Fircrest