The (mostly) afternoon recital series at the Bach Festival has long been a favorite of mine. Performed in the relaxed, elegant setting and warm acoustic of All Saints Church, soloists and Festival Orchestra musicians come together to explore programs that call for smaller forces. This brings the audience closer to the musicians than in the more formal Sunset Theatre. Each hour-plus long recital has a theme that helps elucidate the overall theme of the Festival season.
The Monday recital was “Bach and Dresden” that featured Festival soloists Peter Harvey, baritone, and Gonzalo X. Ruiz, oboe, along with strings and continuo from the Festival Orchestra. The program offered some gems of the age of splendor in early 18th century Saxony.
A short solo cantata for bass by J.S. Bach (BWV 158) opened the program, with the accompaniment of two violins, viola and continuo, which consisted of organ, cello and theorbo. Soloist Peter Harvey has a beautiful tone in all registers, with even the lowest notes maintaining focus and quality. Occasionally for this performance space he projects a bit too much which can border on harshness. A lovely violin obbligato joins in the aria as the solo oboe plays the chorale tune in the background.
Dresden in the 18th century was a magnet for great composers and performers. The virtuoso Leopold Weiss is represented on the program by his solo lute Suite, a work that J.S. Bach admired so much that he converted it into a duo for violin and harpsichord. This performance however, offered the work in a version for violin and theorbo, the long-necked lute that is visually stunning in appearance but lacks projection to effectively balance with the violin. The subdued performance was flawless in details of pitch and rhythm.
Baritone Harvey joined the ensemble for Salve Regina by Zelenka, a Bohemian composer active in Dresden and in Vienna. The virtuoso solo part indicates that the composer had talented musicians to work with, and Harvey glided effortlessly through the long melismas. The accompanying strings and continuo included an obbligato violin.
It’s difficult to believe that the oboe in the early 18th century could handle such quick writing that Bach requires in the Oboe Concerto in F Major (BWV 1053). Soloist Gonzalo X. Ruiz was a big hit with the audience, comfortable with the demands of this virtuoso work. His legato playing was warm, and the passagework was full of energy and forward momentum. It was thrilling.
Johann Adolphe Hasse was director of the state opera in Dresden where he composed about 100 operas and several sacred works. He was a friend of Bach and much admired by him. A recitative and aria from his oratorio “Pilgrims at the Tomb of Our Lord” for baritone and ensemble was probably the most dramatic work on the program. Peter Harvey was superb in the vocal demands of the operatic work, demonstrating agility and a warm sound from the high to low notes, with none of the edge heard in the earlier performances. It was a joy to hear.
The ensemble included Marika Holmqvist and Cristina Zacharias, violins, and Karina Schmitz, viola. The continuo consisted of Margaret Jordan-Gay, cello; Daniel Swenberg, lute and theorbo; and Dongsok Shin, harpsichord.