Carmel Bach Festival – Twilight Concert No. 1

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Robin Carlson Peery

(Peninsula Reviews photo prohibited by Carmel Bach Festival)

The Carmel Bach Festival presented the first of its many Chamber concerts Wednesday afternoon in the Church in the Forest on the campus of the Stevenson School. It is a lovely venue for concerts with its high ceilings, good sight lines and surprisingly satisfying acoustics. Normally, since I work, I am unable to attend afternoon concerts, but according to the Festival Program book, one of the great attractions of this particular concert was a performance by violinist Cynthia Roberts of Bach’s great Partita in D Minor for solo violin, BWV 1004 — a work, with its great Chaconne, that I would gladly crawl over broken glass to hear. When my last client of day cancelled, I immediately called the CBF office and requested a press ticket.

I am glad I did, for this was an interesting concert. My initial disappointment at learning the Bach Partita for solo violin had been replaced by a performance of the Partita in A Minor for solo flute, BWV 1013, quickly evaporated as Robin Carlson Peery broke the silence that preceded her performance and took us on a 17-minute journey of magic and charm that held us enthralled from the first note to the last. Peery produces a lovely liquid sound and, being the consummate musician she is, always uses it to musical effect, never showing off but rather bringing out the best in the music she performs with her elegant shaping of phrases and exquisite control of dynamics. She also has amazing breath control. During this complex score she managed to discretely snatch tiny breaths here and there, so that her playing achieved a seamless continuity. This was a lovely and supremely musical performance.

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Rebecca Mariman, Kathleen Flynn, Andrew Megill & Avery Griffin

(Staff photo prohibited by Carmel Bach Festival)

The second half of the program consisted of a performance of the 2007 Pulitzer-Prize winning work by David Lang, “Little Match Girl Passion,” performed by soprano Rebecca Mariman, alto Kathleen Flynn, tenor Andrew Magill and bass Avery Griffin. According to the CBF Festival Program book, the work involves a setting of a familiar (although not to me) Han Christian Andersen story interwoven with other texts “which serve as reflections or meditations on the main story.” Included are a few percussion effects involving occasional interjections of bell-like tones or subtle thumping of a bass drum, which add to the novelty of the work and its performance.

Had this been performed in Sunset Center, we might have had access to super titles to help us understand the text, but in its setting at the Church in the Forest we had to rely on the musicians’ projection and diction. For me it was so difficult to understand, I felt as though I had dropped in on a 40-minute-long lecture in a foreign language I didn’t understand. Looking around at the audience of affluent senior citizens in the age group from 60 to 80, I assumed some of them had some degree of age-related hearing loss and were probably as perplexed as I was.

So, here we were hearing four fine musicians performing a work that heavily relied on our understanding the text, although the musicians were not entirely successful in getting the meaning of the text across to us. The length of this work did not work in its favor. Forty minutes (that’s 12 minutes longer than Bach’s Magnificat and five minutes longer than Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony) seemed very long indeed, and eventually the monotony weakened the effect of the piece. Incidentally, I looked around at the audience during the performance and observed more than one person gently slipping into the arms of Morpheus. Well, what this work did have was novelty, and if ever in the future I hear a snatch of it, I will be able to identify it instantly, for its conception and execution are original.

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