On Thursday, July 22, the Carmel Bach Festival presented at Sunset Center an evening of music devoted to George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). Under the direction of Andrew Arthur, the evening’s concert showcased superb instrumentalists and some fine ensemble playing by members of the Festival Orchestra.
In addition to conducting the orchestra, Arthur also gave us some brilliant keyboard performances throughout the evening. In the opening work, the Concerto for Organ in G Minor, Op. 4, No.1, HWV 289, Arthur was masterful in melding the organ’s solos into the complex orchestral textures. His dual techniques of conducting and playing organ were visually impressive, and his two quite separate skills enhanced the performance of the concerto considerably. While sustaining long notes on the organ, Arthur guided the Festival Orchestra in synchronizing the “endless melodies” that were the theme of the program. A master of details, Arthur’s articulation was clear, his ornamentation stylish, and his phrasing delightful as he repeatedly linked musical phrases from organ to orchestra.
Tenor Thomas Cooley sang some of the very familiar arias from Handel’s Messiah with a masterful command. Although these tenor arias have received countless performances and recordings, Cooley brought originality and vitality to them during this program. Every detail of vocal technique and interpretation was well crafted ― his use of aspirating consonants, shortening and lengthening of vowels, florid passages, ornamentation, and interpretive vitality were impressive. Equally impressive was the Festival Orchestra in its supportive role. Because of the lighter, smaller ensemble, the details of its execution of Baroque ornamentation and phrasing truly enhanced Cooley’s fine dramatic performance.
The Suite No. 7 in G Minor for Solo Harpsichord from Die acht groβen Suiten, gave Arthur an opportunity to showcase his exceptional technical and dramatic abilities. Throughout the entire piece he achieved an expressive legato line, even though the legato capability of the harpsichord is limited. It was amazing to hear how successful he was in creating so many nuances of rubato, ritardando and phrasing. Especially impressive in the Passacaille, were the rapid left hand octaves, the careful and clean chromatic passages, and the clear shaping of phrases in the left hand.
The Concerto Grosso in A Major, Op.6, No. 11, HWV 329 that ended the evening’s program was especially successful. The members of the Festival Orchestra were violinists Emlyn Ngai, Gabrielle Wunsch, Ann Duggan, Elizabeth Stoppels Girko, Naomi Guy, and Amelia Roosevelt, violists Karina Fox and Sarah Darling, cellists William Skeen and Timothy Roberts, double bass Jordan Frazier, and, of course, Andrew Arthur playing harpsichord and organ. The delicate and sensitive solo playing of the trio by Emlyn Ngai, Gabrielle Wunsch and William Skeen highlighted the very high standards that were established throughout the evening. Not only were we listening to some of Handel’s finest instrumental works, but they were performed brilliantly by some very fine instrumentalists. Special thanks are owing to Lee and Shirley Rosen who sponsored this concert.