Bach Festival Chamber Concert

By Scott MacClelland

THE CHAMBER MUSIC recital last Wednesday afternoon at All Saints Church in Carmel, titled Bohemia Baroque, ran over its allotted time of one hour by…

One minute.

The packed church loved it as adoring Bach Festival patrons do, standing ovation and all. I loved it because, to me, it was all new music. During this 78th season of the Carmel Bach Festival I’ve heard several complaints about historically informed performance practice (HIP)—valveless trumpets and horns in particular—but I don’t get it. Notes that crack or go out of tune simply prove the rustic origins of baroque instrumental music; at that time the violins were ahead of the technological curve. It reminds me of Martin Bernheimer who was awarded a Pulitzer Prize for making every critique not about ‘it’ but about ‘him,’ to the Pulitzer people’s disgrace.

The program at hand included violinists Edwin Huizinga and Josephswenberg-400x266 Tan, violists Sarah Darling and Meg Eldridge, cellist Margaret Jordan-Gay, harpsichordist Donsok Shin and lutenist—and in one piece theorbo player—Daniel Swenberg who verbally introduced the works on display. They were joined by basso Dashon Burton in two pieces, and the instrumental ensemble changed according to the individual numbers.

The Peasants Procession to Church by Heinrich Ignaz Franz von Biber (1644-1704) is true program music, from the waking up in bed, to the priest’s call and the congregational response of the psalms, an organ tremolo and festivities after church.

Biber’s Nisi dominum “Except the lord” was deeply intoned by Burton while surrounded by an instrumental quartet. Sylvius Leopold Weiss (1687-1750) is known today mostly for guitar transcriptions of his courtly lute music. His duet in B-flat was played by Swenberg and Shin. By Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), Hanaque portrays the music of Poland and Moravia, an altogether rustic piece of, as he said, “barbaric beauty.” Swenberg and Shin needed to recreate the sound of shrill fiddle, bagpipe, bass trombone (sackbut) and regal (portable reed organ.) Somehow they managed, only sounding more like a hurdy-gurdy.

Polnische Sackpfeiffen (Polish bagpipes) by Johann Heinrich Schmelzer (1620-1680) added violins back to the group and after a courtly introduction—that reappeared rondo-like—broke into peasant dancing and bagpiping, a most entertaining affair ending with a descending violin glissando by Huizinga that imitated the last whine of a deflating bagpipe.

Two laments relating to the Holy Roman Emperor in Vienna followed. As Swenberg’s notes explain, the first, by Johann Jakob Froberger (1616-1667), played on harpsichord, was dedicated to Ferdinand IV Hapsburg on the occasion of the untimely death of his son. Schmelzer’s Lament on the death of Ferdinand II, is a musician’s celebration of the music-loving monarch (and composer.) It too is program music, a quasi-recitative of sorrow followed in turn by funeral bells, “wistful” fugue and dance and final chorale.

Another Biber gem brought the concert to its close, Serenade “The Night Watchman.” As the full ensemble tuned up, Swenberg explained that they were retuning from E-flat to D-sharp, drawing a giggle from the audience. The charming suite, in discrete movements, hit its most delicious ciacona “Nachtwächter” when pizzicato strings supported Dashon Burton intoning “all’s safe and all’s well” as he strolled up the aisle from the rear of the church then turned and retraced his steps.

The musicians remained in the courtyard to greet the audience and exchange email addresses. At least I got theirs and they got mine. (Click our WEEKLY UPDATE coverage of their new CD.)