Karina Fox & Allen Whear
Peter Hanson welcomed the audience on Wednesday, July 25, 2012, to the Twilight Chamber Concert, “Twilight Quintets,” by describing the tradition of transcriptions. Long before the first recordings of music were available, transcriptions of major works were created for small groups to perform. Since public performances of large-scale works were rare, a small group of musicians performing a reduced score could create some of the magic of a major opera or symphony. We were about to hear four sections of Haydn’s The Creation, transcribed for string quintet by Paul Wranitzky (1756-1808).
We heard brilliant ensemble work in the first movement (which had been performed by the Bach Festival Chorus in the Tuesday night main concert, “Inside the Music”). The simulated effect of a full chorus by string quintet was immediate and effective. During “God Created Great Whales” we enjoyed a wonderfully sonorous conversation between cello and violin. “Adam & Eve” offered a blissful romp through the Garden of Eden with entertaining glimpses of a snake in the grass. However, I think Wranitzky’s ambition got the better of him with the grand final movement, “The Heavens are Telling” (it gets a little murky), but Allen Whear’s pizzicato cello passages were beautiful.
The audience really enjoyed Mr. Hanson’s personal introductions to the compositions; his sense of humor (and self deprecating manner) conveyed interesting information that enhanced our listening experience. Before beginning Mozart’s String Quintet No. 3 in C Major, K. 515, he told us “chamber music was the testing ground for orchestra.” The first Allegro movement set a new record length of 368 bars and offers an interesting exchange between cello and violin. The cello asks, the violin answers, and then the roles are reversed. It is long, but pleasantly searching, circling, and finally resolving. The dynamic Menuetto – Trio – Allegretto offered smooth crescendos suddenly interrupted by pianos.
The real passion was revealed in the Andante between violin and viola. Peter Hanson’s dazzling violin was romanced by Karina Fox’s astonishingly rich and strong viola. They were devastating together — my favorite movement of the concert. A sparkling Allegro, described earlier by Hanson as “insanely happy,” concluded the evening.
There was real synergy created by these five accomplished musicians. It is my impression (from some distance away) that Peter Hanson leads with great subtlety; he is the star when he needs to be, but he also seems eager to cast “the spotlight” wherever the music calls. This resulted in strong performances by every player. It was a more egalitarian and collaborative effort than we sometimes experience, and it was very successful. The audience was warmly appreciative, and I overheard many “wasn’t that special” comments as the crowd exited.
On a final “note”, since Bach Festival staff left the middle door of the Church open throughout this performance, the temperature was much more comfortable than at previous events. I would gladly accept a little ambient noise for fresh air when the sun is setting and baking the crowded sanctuary.