Demands and rewards of counterpoint
Are Americans losing interest in counterpoint, that lively texture of individual ‘voices’ weaving tapestry-like into a coherent whole? Only 108 million of us watched the 2013 Super Bowl telecast in February, down from 111 million during the previous two editions of that contrapuntal American ‘classic.’ At the end of his life, JS Bach’s counterpoint was also losing adherents who had grown weary of the effort his counterpoint demanded of listeners. It just proves that we spectators have to work harder to reap the rewards of counterpoint, whether on the pitch or in the concert hall.
On the opening night of the Carmel Bach Festival, conductor Paul Goodwin blurted out that he was as big a fan of Handel as of Bach, then conducted a virtuoso concerto by Handel. I subsequently asked if he might perform one or more of Handel’s Chandos Anthems, which, I said, I couldn’t recall ever hearing at the Festival. He said that he has performed some of them, much embellished with other Handelian material, in Britain, but that he was so far unaware of their history in Carmel. So I phoned Bruce Lamott, who was the Festival’s choral director during the later Sandor Salgo tenure and the early years of Bruno Weil’s music directorship. He did a little research and found that, since 1936, only one of the eleven Chandos Anthems, As pants the hart, had been performed in Carmel, that in 1974.
Meanwhile, Hyperion Records has just released the second volume of the Chandos Anthems (Hyperion CDA67926), a worthy introduction to these works, as performed by the Trinity College Choir, Cambridge, and Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment conducted by Stephen Layton. The anthems, all sung in English and including As pants the hart and two others, take their texts from the psalms and their form from typical Baroque cantatas. In them, Handel flashes as much variety and invention as Bach does in his choral/orchestra cantatas, but without Lutheran chorales and their hymn tunes. Layton delivers sparklingly clear performances here, with three fine soloists, soprano Susan Gritton, countertenor Hestyn Davies and the exceptional tenor Thomas Hobbs. These pieces are in seven, eight and nine movements respectively, each preceded by an instrumental sonata. The French influence is inescapable, with the inevitable dotted rhythms and gracefully transparent textures and enchanting dances.
This week sees an explosion of live performance events, as you’ll find on our Calendar page. Shakespeare Santa Cruz opens the first of its summer fare, The Taming of the Shrew, in the redwood glen at UC Santa Cruz. The Cabrillo Stage adds Escaping Queens and Oklahoma! to its summer repertoire, while Monterey Peninsula College launches its run of Les Miserables. Meanwhile, the Carmel Bach Festival is in full gear for its second and final week of concerts, culminating on Saturday with ‘Best of the Fest.’
JUST IN: Nicola Reilly, the Festival’s marketing director, invites anyone interested in the Saturday morning concert—11 a.m. at Sunset Center—to “pay what you can.” Or, as she put it to me, “If you’ve got a buck, you get a ticket.”* The program is called Parisian Matinée Concertante and includes music by Christian Bach, François Devienne, Joseph Haydn, Joseph Boulogne and a symphony by François-Joseph Gossec.*limit two tickets per person, subject to availability, discount is not valid on previously purchased tickets or combinable with any other offer.
More Bach Fest coverage can be found on our Music Reviews page, while Philip Pearce turns in his coverage of Paper Wing Theatre’s new Macbeth on our Theater Reviews page. And Rob Klevan has just contributed coverage of events during Summer Arts at CSU Monterey Bay. We’ve added a special page, Rob Klevan Reports, which you can find next to our Music Reviews page.
Scott MacClelland, editor