A delightful date with Bach, Handel

30. Apr. 2006 – A delightful date with Bach, Handel


Together, Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frederic Handel represent the gold standard of baroque music. And the Spokane Symphony gave its large audience its money's worth Sunday afternoon with the final concert in the orchestra's Symphony at The Met series.


Eckart Preu, the symphony music director, mixed one very familiar work by Handel with one rarity by Bach alongside one of Bach's greatest hits and an unusual performance of a fairly familiar Bach composition. Aside from a bit of ragged playing as the concert began, the orchestra responded with zest and style.


Preu opened Sunday's concert with Bach's seldom performed Sinfonia in D Major (BWV 1045) for solo violin with the kind of orchestra Bach reserved for his most festive music. As Preu explained in his program notes, nobody knows what Bach's intentions were for this piece. Added mysteries are: Why did he leave the solo part notated in a sketchy musical shorthand and why didn't he finish it?


Symphony concertmaster Kelly Farris gave a lively account of the solo part, improvising some daring string-crossing figuration modeled on Bach's fully completed violin concertos. As it stands, the work is a tantalizing torso of a piece and one wishes that Bach would have completed it.


Almost as a midprogram encore, Preu led the orchestra strings in the Air from Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 3, a work sometimes called Air on the G String - one of the most memorable of Bach's Hit Parade. Preu and his players showed the rich, dense weaving of the tapestry of this apparently simple piece.


Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 was performed with only seven players, an excellent choice using three small groups of players: two solo violas, two solo cellos, and a basso continuo - kind of a rhythm section made up of one cello, one string bass and harpsichord. Symphony violists Nicholas Carper and Jeanette Wee-Yang made easy work of the work's taxing viola parts, seconded by cellists Helen Byrne and Karen Conlin and the basso continuo group of cellist John Marshall, string bassist Chang-Min Lee, with Preu conducting from the harpsichord.


There was a clarity, energy, and a dance-like quality in this minimal instrumentation that is often lost in versions with more instruments.


Handel's "Water Music" takes its place along with the "Music for the Royal Fireworks" as his most famous instrumental music. Preu chose 10 of the "Water Music's" 20 movements in a fascinating chain of dances and concerto-like pieces - just the sort of thing that would have entertained King George I as the royal party boated from Whitehall to Chelsea.


As Preu obviously sought, the concert showed the strong points of each of the great baroque pair: Bach's linear complexity and harmonic daring, and Handel's full-bodied sonority, easy-to-follow harmonies and catchy tunefulness.


It was an afternoon of splendid music, lively performances and effortless learning.


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