Opening Night at the 2013 Carmel Bach Festival

CBF 2013 - Opening night


Opening night at the 2013 Carmel Bach Festival, “Bach to Fauré,” was a great success. It started with David Gordon’s pre-concert lecture, a standing-room-only event, that gave us an entertaining perspective on the music we were to be hearing and an introduction to the Festival’s featured contemporary composer, Thea Musgrave. Another always-popular pre-concert feature at the Festival was the performance of “Tower Music” on Sunset’s upper terrace by trumpets, horns, sackbuts, tuba and percussion performed by members of the Festival Orchestra.

The opening Bach Cantata and the ending Fauré Requiem filled the stage seemingly with a cast of thousands as the Festival Orchestra, the Chorale, Chorus and soloists packed every inch of the stage. Sunset Theater was also filled to the brim, with not an empty seat to be seen anywhere. An unexpected feature of the sold out house was that fewer people than usual must have purchased the handsomely produced festival program, since the ushers quickly exhausted their supply of 500 single sheet programs (perhaps in the end it didn’t matter, since the hall was so dark when the stage lights were up that you couldn’t read either).

The Bach Cantata that opened the program, O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort, BWV 20, (O eternity, you word of thunder) is not one of the more well known or popular cantatas, but was undoubtedly chosen by Music Director Paul Goodwin because its beginning three-part French Overture seemed appropriate to the “French Connection” theme of the 2013 Festival. The text of this Cantata is truly grim in describing the terrifying fire and brimstone consequences on judgment day if we don’t abandon our sinful ways. There was much to admire in this powerful performance by the orchestra, chorale and chorus. We heard fine performances in the arias and recitatives by festival soloists tenor Thomas Cooley, countertenor Daniel Taylor and especially newcomer to the festival, baritone Peter Harvey.

Next on the program was the much-anticipated festival premiere, “LARGO in homage to B.A.C.H,” by composer Thea Musgrave, Scottish born, but at present living in the Los Angeles area, her personal “French Connection” is that she studied in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, a pupil of Fauré. She explained in the pre-concert lecture that she planned this brief work (six minutes duration) in four sections, each one in a different key to represent one of the letters of Bach’s name – thus one selection in the keys of B-flat, A Major, C Major, and B Minor (except that she ended the work with a Picardy third, a major third instead of the expected minor). This brief work contained some stunning effects (the opening section featured an unusual solo by principal bass Jordan Frazier) and made a pleasing impression.

Paul Goodwin freely admits that he is a devoted enthusiast for Handel, and thus we expected that the work by Handel on the evening’s program would be something special. Well, it was, for the chosen work, Handel’s Concerto for an orchestra of strings plus two bands of wind instruments, had an “Antiques Roadshow” aspect about it. It was obvious we were hearing 18th-century valveless horns dueling away on stage (and some of the woodwinds may also have been historical instruments, but I were too far from the stage to confirm it visually). Lacking valves the older horns are at a disadvantage when it comes to accuracy of pitch and agility in more difficult passages – kind of like trying to do “wheelies” on a 1880s high wheel “Penny Farthing” bicycle. Nevertheless, if we can overlook the shortcomings of the ancient horns’ limitations, there were fine performances by Christopher Cooper, Paul Avril, Meredith Brown and Alicia Mastromonaco. The other woodwind players, not identified in the program, were even more dazzling for the easy way they navigated around some very fast moving and difficult passages. This performance was spectacular.

Ending the program was the Requiem Mass by Fauré. Considered by some to be an acquired taste, the Fauré Requiem has none of the violence associated with requiems by Berlioz and Verdi, or the compelling depth and profundity of the requiem by Mozart. This is a laid back, subtle work that has a way of worming its way into your psyche and persuading you that there is a more serene view of our passage from this world to the next – one without dire threats and foreshadowing of the terrifying fate awaiting us.

In the Fauré we heard the Festival Orchestra at its best, with the Chorale and Chorus sounding superb, and with the wonderful participation of the soloists, especially newcomers soprano Dominique Labelle and baritone Peter Harvey. The lovely pianissimo ending of the Fauré Requiem made a gorgeous effect and earned a prolonged standing ovation from the audience.

The audience was invited to a champagne reception on the terrace outside Sunset Theater immediately following the performance.




Archived in these categories: 20th Century, Baroque, Brass, Carmel Bach Festival, Choral, Concerto, Oboe, Orchestral.
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