On Sunday afternoon, March 2, a good-sized Carmel Music Society audience enjoyed an excellent concert by the baroque ensemble Musica Pacifica. The acclaimed long-standing group was joined by musical friends to present “A Family Affair: The Father, Sons, & the Godfather” featuring music by Johann Sebastian Bach, his sons Johann Christian, Carl Philip Emmanuel and Johann Christoph Friedrich, and the godfather to his sons, Georg Philip Telemann. The program consisting mostly of concertos featured a wonderful range of soloists sharing the spotlight and showcasing a range of beautiful historical instruments, which many members of the audience had an opportunity to examine at close range during intermission by approaching the stage.
And against the formidable backdrop of the Bach Baroque Family Dynasty we were struck by the skill and musical relationships of the wonderful artists before us. The biographies of this group read like the “Who’s Who” of the Baroque Music World with intersecting work criss-crossing recordings, orchestras, chamber groups, universities and conservatories, heavily accented with accolades and doctorates.
Musica Pacifica (founded in 1990) includes some of the “finest baroque musicians in America” (American Record Guide) and are “amongst the best in the world” (Alte Musik Aktuell). Today this musical family included a new generation taking up the “historic performance mantle” – Gretchen Claassen on ‘cello and Lynn Tetenbaum’s violone (double bass viol) were new to me and exceptional.
Founder Judith Linsenberg began the concert by explaining that Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) “never wrote a concerto for the recorder” and that this Concerto in F Major, BWV 1053 was arranged for recorder and strings after a reconstruction of a Bach oboe concerto that was a reconstruction of a harpsichord concerto that was probably a reconstructed oboe concerto! Performing masterfully on a small soprano recorder, Ms. Linsenberg lead the ensemble through a joyous and energetic Allegro (with repeating dance theme), a poignant and rather mournful Siciliano until the sun returned with positive Allegro.
Written specifically to showcase a brand new Michael Mietke harpsichord and almost certainly performed originally by Bach himself, the Brandenburg Concerto V in D Major for flute, violin, and harpsichord BWV 1050 (Allegro, Affettuoso, Allegro) set the future stage for Mozart’s piano concerti. Charles Sherman dazzled us with the lengthy and richly textured solo cadenza and extraordinary developments of surprisingly modern themes, as well as skillfully supporting the ensemble during the continuo passages. Elizabeth Blumenstock’s strong violin sang beautifully with Stephen Schultz’s amazing baroque flute completing this trio-soloist concerto.
This many-tentacled Monster of a harpsichord solo was powerfully delivered by Mr. Sherman on an instrument he’d never played before. Unlike concert pianos, harpsichord keyboards vary widely in key size, depth, tone, and action. He arrived early Sunday to spend a few minutes becoming accustomed to the instrument (our instrument) before rehearsing with the ensemble. It was a special treat for my family to hear it played so richly, thank you.
After the intermission a Trio Sonata “Pasticcio” of separate movements composed by Bach sons illustrated the changing direction music with softer textures and sweeter melodies. Ms. Linsenberg introduced her “voice flute” a larger, richly toned tenor recorder in the key of D. The musical style was immediately different in Johann Christian Bach’s (1735-1782) Andante from Trio Sonata no. IV in A Major (flute leading strings), followed by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s (1714-1788) Andante from Trio Sonata in A Major (a wind duet), and finally Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach’s (1732-1795) Allegretto from Trio Sonata in A Major – led by recorder and violin. Gallant and charming – although less dense or complex than his father’s work, and perfectly presented.
There was a collective sigh from the audience as Ms. Blumenstock began J. S. Bach’s emotive Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041. Immediately recognizable to many, her passionate Allegro was surpassed by an Andante so infused with longing, regret and hope that the transfixed audience was completely still, as if holding its breath – you could have heard a pin drop in Sunset Center. Eyes dried and breathing resumed with the resurrecting Allegro assai. Ms. Blumenstock’s performance was remarkable for the effect it had on the audience. It was what we attend live performances for.
Georg Philipp Telemann’s (1681-1767) travels exposed him to Polish folk music, writing “I had an opportunity in upper Silesia as well as in Cracow of getting to know Polish music in all its barbaric beauty. One would hardly believe what wonderfully bright ideas such pipers and fiddlers are apt to get when they improvise, ideas that would suffice for an entire lifetime. There is in this music a great deal of merit provided it is treated correctly. I have myself written in this manner several large concertos and trios that I clad in Italian clothes with alternating Adagi and Allegri.”
The audience felt this immediately with the energized Concerto for flute and recorder in E Minor. In the Largo, Stephen Schultz’s transfixing flute and Judy Linsenberg’s amazing recorder (an Alto instrument) alternated melodies over pulsating strings and immediately progressed to a spirited flute and recorder “competition” in the Allegro. In the second Largo long string note passages sandwiched a charming pizzicato middle, even the harpsichord strings were buffed, for a wonderful group effect. But it was the gypsy Presto that brought the house down: a spontaneous and joyous Peasant dance that grew faster and faster and suddenly stopped.
A standing ovation by the audience attempted to repay the collective skill and musical understanding of the ensemble. This musical family of long-standing is worth traveling distances to hear. Bravo!
The Musica Pacifica & Friends Ensemble:
Judith Linsenberg, recorder
Elizabeth Blumenstock, violin
Stephen Schultz, flute
Lisa Weiss and Anthony Martin, violins
David Wilson, viola
Lynn Tetenbaum, violone
Gretchen Claassen, violincello
Charles Sherman, harpsichord
Editor’s note: The harpsichord used in this concert, on loan from the instrument collection of Jerry and Christine Baker, is a Double-manual Flemish, built by Kevin Fryer in San Francisco, California, and was influenced by the “Colmar Ruckers” built by Joannes Ruckers in 1624 (now in the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar, France). This Instrument’s decoration is by Adrian Card of San Francisco, after Brabant engraver Joris Hoefnagel, (Antwerp 1542-1601) “Mira Calligraphae Monumenta” manuscript in Getty Museum.
This 55-note instrument has two sets of keyboards that employ three sets of strings in several combinations, two sets of 8′ strings at same pitch and one set of 4′ strings tuned an octave higher (a=414 for this performance). The lower manual (keyboard) operates jacks furthest from the nut for the fullest tone, the upper manual plucks closer to the nut with a slightly softer and more nasal tone. All three sets of strings can be played only from lower manual.