Bach's Sons: The legacy of the Baroque: Chamber Music from the Late Baroque and the Rococo

Date and Venue 1 August, 2010 | Old Auditorium, UBC School of Music

Reviewer Elizabeth Paterson

The concert by faculty of the Early Music Workshop currently being held at UBC presented a slightly academic but nonetheless entertaining and interesting program of music. During the 18th century, thought and art turned from the institutional, public style of the Baroque period toward a more private, individual and intimate approach and began to favour a popular, bourgeois audience and wider, amateur participation. Music naturally reflected these trends, and the works on the programme by four of the sons of JS Bach demonstrated changes in style between the Baroque and the Classical, as practiced in Germany.

The opening Quartett in A major by Johann Christian, played by all five members of the group, was elegant, airy and deliciously amusing.

Johann Christian was JS Bach’s youngest son. The piece by Wilhelm Friedemann, his eldest son, which followed next a made a vivid contrast. Where the Quartett was open and familiar sounding, even on first hearing, the Allegro moderato in a minor was unsettling in its constant changes. Sudden leaps in pitch, unexpected turns of melody, surprising contrasts, all kept the listener off-balance.

With the Sonata in d minor for harpsichord and flute by Johann Christoph Friedrich, the next-to-last brother, we were on more familiar ground again, but with a definite operatic twist and this time the harpsichord was not the accompanying basso continuo as in the previous pieces but almost the star with the flute in support. The operatic flavour derives in part from the aria-like shape of the lines and from the structure whereby the movements are separated from each other by a short harpsichord solo, as if a recitativo. But throughout, and especially in the Andante movement, the rhythms of speech could be clearly heard. Virtuoso technique is a given with Jacques Ogg (harpsichord) and Wilbert Hazelzet (flute) and served merely as a tool for bringing the notes to life.

The first half closed with more conversation, or rather argument, between 2 violins. The Trio in c minor by CPE Bach (second son) is a programmatic debate between the relentlessly cheerful Sanguineus (Marc Destrubé) and the more reflective Melancholicus (Julie Andrijeski). Both players threw themselves into their roles with gusto. Andrijeski’s withering expressions and dirty looks and Destrubé’s verve matched their violin voices. Both received active encouragement from Jaap ter Linden and his cello and impartial support from the harpsichord of Jacques Ogg. For two movements the players seized themes from each other, converting lively airs to soulful ones, or gloomy meditations to cheerful fancies. Ultimately Melancholius is won over and the final movement is a happy and harmonious Allegro. The witty variations and the scenery-chewing play-acting made an irresistible combination.

The second half returned to works by Johann Christoph Friedrich and Johann Christian. JCF’s cello sonata in A major made a lovely, lyrical vehicle for Jaap ter Linden’s melodious playing. The final piece brought the whole ensemble back on stage and closed the circle with another, later work from Johann Christian. Tuneful and beautiful, it made a fitting close to an interesting and entertaining program.

The quality of playing was superb - beautiful phrasing, lovely intonation, thoughtful and sensitive interpretation. The camaraderie within the group and their obvious enjoyment of the music was icing on the cake.

© 2010 Elizabeth Paterson