The concert presents music that spans over a century of creation.
The season opening concert of the Madison Bach Musicians is an interesting experiment in programming.
Artistic director Trevor Stephenson has already been broadening his group's repertoire beyond the literature of the Baroque, as focused particularly of the music of Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750). This time he takes the Bach commitment more elastically for the program "Music of the Bach Family." That clan produced one of the longest genealogies of important musicians and composers in history. The program draws upon the many Bach musicians by presenting music that spans over a century of creation.
The opening piece is the central movement of a wedding cantata, to words taken from the scriptural Song of Songs, by Johann Christoph Bach (1642-1703). This Bach was regarded as "the great Bach" well into the era of J.S., who admired his works. This core aria is cast in the form of a "ciacona," or variations over a repeated bass figure, for duetting soprano voice and violin, against string group. Mezzo Consuelo Sañudo sings it with great feeling and rich tone.
The "big Bach" for us, old J.S., handily closes the first half of the menu with his Concerto in C minor for Oboe, Violin and Strings, as reconstructed from its survival to us as Bach's own adaptation of it as a two-harpsichord concerto. The elegantly adept violinist Kangwon Kim is joined for this by the superlative Baroque oboe expert, Kathryn Montoya.
In between, the Baroque flute duo Keith Underwood and Rebecca Meier-Rao deliver the latter two of the three-movement Duet in F major, the fourth of six that come to us from the eldest of J.S. Bach's four composer sons, Wilhelm Friedemann (1710-1784). The almost atonal "Lamentabile" is an astonishing venture into 18th-century avant-garde writing, while the concluding Presto demands remarkably speedy playing.
The second half is devoted entirely to music of the second musical son of J.S., Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), who built himself a reputation in his time far greater than what his father enjoyed. Montoya, with bassoonist Marc Vallon, led off this part of the concert with a transcription of two arias from two separate sacred works by C.P.E.
The crowning work of the concert is a late Double Concerto in E-flat by "Emanuel." Perhaps as his farewell to his world of keyboard instrument, he joined the old-fashioned harpsichord with the new-fangled fortepiano as a duo, collegial and yet competitive, in a reflection on the changing tastes in keyboards. His orchestra this time is a robust one, and his style is typical of the brusque, disjunct and challenging writing he pursued through his career, in sharp contrast to the architectural counterpoint of his father.
Stephenson played the harpsichord and Timothy Mueller the fortepiano -- both fine instruments built by local craftsman Norman Sheppard. The wide spatial separation made between them was particularly helpful in sorting out their dialogues. And, at its fullest strength, the ensemble of 10 string players and four winds (including burly natural horns) proved itself a well-rounded period-instrument ensemble. For the C.P.E. concerto, moreover, Vallon demonstrated an exuberant dancing style in conducting, communicating his vitality to the group.
A most impressive season opener, heard Saturday evening at Trinity Lutheran Church, and to be heard again Sunday, October 9 at the First Unitarian Society.