Salish Sea Early Music Festival
Concerti by J.S. Bach

Date and Venue Wednesday, May 29, 2019 at 7.30 pm | Knox United Church, 5600 Balaclava St., Vancouver

Artistic Director Jeffrey Cohan Featured performers Carrie Krause, baroque violin; Jonathan Oddie, harpsichord; Jeffrey Cohan, baroque flute; Courtney Kuroda, baroque violin; Elizabeth Phelps, baroque violin; Stephen Cresswell, baroque viola; Caroline Nicolas, baroque cello;

Program Suite in B Minor, BWV 1067; Triple Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1044;Violin Concerto in A Minor, BWV 1041; Brandenburg Concerto no. 5, BWV 1050

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

Salish Sea Early Music Festival presented some of JS Bach’s most joyous instrumental works, played with verve and delight. The opening dancey Suite in B minor, BWV 1067 was full of variety from the Ouverture with its ceremonious and dotted opening and lively fugal middle section through the gentle canonic Sarabande, elegant Minuet, and a very punchy Polonaise to the dazzling Battinerie, played by Jeffrey Cohan with his usual panache and brilliance. The Suite was played with heart by the whole orchestra, and also by heart by Cohan.

The Triple Concerto in A minor, BWV1044 offers 3 solo instruments, harpsichord, flute and violin, against accompanying strings with continuo. Bach cut and pasted, unpicked and re-wove the solo keyboard Prelude and Fugue in A minor, BWV 894 into a full concerto. In doing so he gave the harpsichord a soloist’s part equal to the more usual solo instruments, flute and violin, something he had introduced some years earlier in the 5th Brandenburg. The harpsichord tends to be the most marked of the 3 soloists, violin and flute often doubling each other. In his continuo role in the Suite in B minor, Jonathan Oddie’s playing was regular, structured and supportive and the notes crystalline clear. As soloist he used these qualities of restraint, never mechanical or routine, to give a keen forward impetus and strong narrative shape. Music tumbled like a waterfall from his fingers. The give and take between concertante and ripieno and amongst the soloists was always lively. Especially in the first movement the returning musical snippets from the theme repeated almost hypnotically through rich playing by violist Stephen Cresswell and Caroline Nicolas, cello. The lovely middle Adagio is for the 3 principals alone, the flute spinning out a gentle pastoral mood for the companionable violin and affable harpsichord. The last movement is deeper and more dramatic. Explorations of the fugal theme are broken up by loud interruptions from the orchestra even as the harpsichord pursues an intensely emotional course. Fine ensemble playing distinguished by transparency and balance drew out a fascinating and moving performance.

The Concerto for Violin in A minor, BWV 1041, is well-known and none the less welcome for that, especially in Carrie Krause’s characterful interpretation which is brimful with flair, stylishness and originality. Tempi and phrasing, dynamics and ornaments were immensely satisfying to hear. The orchestra followed every lead unconditionally. The cheery opening Allegro is followed by a deeply contemplative Andante. Krause simply soared over the orchestra’s insistent pulsing theme like an eagle on a summer’s day updraft, ethereal and exquisite. She infused the final Allegro assai with a splendid sense of humour and energy.

Probably only one of the Brandenburg Concerti could close such a program without giving a feeling of let-down. Of these, the 5th, BWV 1050, is scored for the same instruments as the Triple Concerto previously played and offers wonderful scope as well for the harpsichordist; it could only be the perfect ending for this program, and so, the perfect Fifth it was. Eminently satisfying from beginning to end - the exhilarating opening Allegro, the intimate and expressive Affetuoso in the middle, the happy, ebullient closing Allegro - rewardingly played, it was the perfect finale to take home.

© 2019 Elizabeth Paterson