(Peninsula Reviews photo prohibited by Carmel Bach Festival)
For months prior to the beginning of Carmel Bach Festival 2014, we heard the mantra, “The Italians are Coming, The Italians are Coming.” Well, last night they truly arrived as concertmaster Peter Hanson and an ensemble of players from the festival orchestra served us up a generous helping of Italian concerti and concerti grossi in an evening that was as charming as it was enlightening.
The tradition of an evening of Italian concerti during the festival began over twenty years ago when newly appointed concertmaster Elizabeth Wallfisch was featured in a main evening concert playing a group of concerti accompanied by lots of talking to the audience. Sometimes there seemed to be more talking than playing as she related endless anecdotes and readings from Charles Burney’s The Present State of Music in France and Italy (1771), but, in any case, the tradition was established and thankfully continues to the present day.
You could never accuse Mr. Hanson of talking too much, and in fact he is such a genial and entertaining host, we wish he would speak a bit more. Although not every musician may be as charming and witty as he is, there is no question that audiences love seeing the invisible curtain separating them from the performing musicians penetrated by occasional comments from the stage doling out valuable insights into the music being performed. And this Mr. Hanson did in spades. We enjoyed hearing about Rossini at age 7 playing the triangle in his father’s orchestra, and how the famous La Folia theme was originally a mad Portuguese dance.
In the end it was the music that carried the evening, and a wonderful selection it was. Naturally when listening to 18th century Italian concerti you can expect to hear endless alternations of tonic and dominant, plus sequences that spin you around from one place to another, and however much we heard examples of this, we still enjoyed the journey.
One of the highlights of the evening was hearing bassoonist Dominic Teresi perform Vivaldi’s Concerto for Bassoon in F Major. Mr. Hanson informed us that we would be hearing a replica of an 18th-century bassoon that lacked some of the added mechanical key work that subsequently made the bassoon an easier instrument to play. From Mr. Teresi’s masterful playing I didn’t get the impression that he was struggling with the instrument (although I assumed that playing the “Flight of the Bumblebee” might be a tad difficult). In any case his sound was lovely and mellow.
Another great treat on this program was hearing Bach’s famous work for keyboard, “Concerto in the Italian Style, BWV 971,” played in an arrangement for string orchestra. The outer movements sounded so natural and appropriate for strings, anyone hearing this arrangement for the first time would probably have no idea it was a transcription from a keyboard work. The most satisfying aspect of this arrangement was how idiomatic the slow movement sounds for strings. As played on harpsichord each note of the melody in the treble decays instantly, and the accompanying notes in the bass played on a lute stop sound clunky and awkward. Hanson played the slow movement so expressively and with such tasteful embellishments that he may be spoiling us for performances on the keyboard. Hanson mentioned in passing that we would have an opportunity to hear the original work later in the week played on the harpsichord by Andrew Arthur.
Other treasures on the program were a lovely Allegro in C Major for Strings by Donizetti, Rossini’s String Sonata No. 1 in G Major (containing a charming brief solo by bassist Jordan Frazier), and the magnificent final work on the program, the Adagio in G Minor by Albioni (although Hanson set us straight that it was actually written and copyrighted by Remo Giazotto).
After a great audience response to this concert, Hanson and the ensemble rewarded us with a single encore – a witty piece, the name of which I couldn’t hear, except that it has “Il Diablo” in the title.