Carmel Bach Festival – Bohemian Baroque

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The Wednesday recital program takes a journey through the countryside of Bohemia with a lineup of composers seldom heard from the 17th and early 18th centuries. Listeners are probably most familiar with the late Baroque of J.S. Bach and Handel. But for those musical giants to produce the masterworks of their time, many others had previously laid the groundwork, sometimes experimenting with harmony and structure. Those representatives of the early Baroque were the theme of this concert.

These early composers enjoyed using music to represent non-musical events, as in the opening work by Heinrich Biber, “The Peasants Procession to the Church.” Violinist Edwin Huizinga led the ensemble of strings and continuo in a colorful description of people entering a church and attending a service. At one point the instruments imitate the call and response of priest and congregation. The full ensemble comprised two violins, two violas, and continuo, played by cello, theorbo and harpsichord.

Dashon Burton joined the ensemble for Biber’s Nisi Dominus, a setting of psalm 127. Burton’s rich bass voice carries the text while Huizinga’s solo violin weaves a very active line. Biber’s contribution to the development of violin technique was significant, and here the violin tries all sorts of unusual tricks with fanciful and otherworldly sounds and double stops.

Described as “salon music” by lutenist Daniel Swenberg, Weiss’ Duet for lute and cello with harpsichord might have fared better in a smaller setting, as All Saints Church seemed to swallow the sound of plucked strings while the cello was forced to played softly and with a light touch throughout. Telemann’s piece of fluff, Hanaque, was a mercifully short though effective attempt to imitate the sound of Polish bagpipes.

Imitative sounds were heard again in Johann Schmelzer’s “Polish Bagpipes” for two violins and continuo. This sectional work can best be described as quirky, and the performers allowed themselves to enjoy that aspect, with the violin’s last note sliding down in imitation of the bagpipes’ last gasp.

Harmonic experimentation was most pronounced in Johann Froberger’s “Lament on the painful loss of the Royal Majesty King Ferdinand IV” for harpsichord solo. The mournful melody wanders in search for its harmony that always seems to avoid resolution. The performance by Dongsok Shin was quiet and expressive. Another lament, by Schmelzer, is for strings and continuo, and like his other work on the program, is descriptive and sectional.

The concert ended with an entertaining work by Biber for the full ensemble, “Serenade – The Night Watchman” in six short movements. In the Ciacona movement, the continuo rests while the strings put down their bows and hold the instruments horizontally in guitar style, playing pizzicato. From behind the audience the sounds of the Night Watchman emerges from bass Dashon Burton, singing the text as he slowly walks up to the stage to join the ensemble. The work concludes with lively dance rhythms.

This lively romp through the early German Baroque was energetic and illuminating. Along with bass soloist Dashon Burton, the ensemble included Edwin Huizinga and Joseph Tan, violins, Sarah Darling and Meg Eldridge, violas, Margaret Jordan-Gay, cello, Daniel Swenberg, lute and theorbo, and Dongsok Shin, harpsichord.

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Archived in these categories: All Saints' Church, Baroque, Carmel Bach Festival, Chamber music, Strings.
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