The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music review: Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society changes the musicians but keeps the quaIity — and proves again it is a chamber music group for all seasons.

June 22, 2010
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By Jacob Stockinger

There are many things to like and to admire about the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, now that is two-thirds of the way through the three weekends of  performances that make up its annual summer season.

I find it amazing, for example, that pianist and BDDS co-director Jeffrey Sykes plays so much different music and so much difficult music  – both established classics and contemporary works — all with confidence and conviction as well as subtlety and good humor.

But another big source of admiration has to be the reliable consistency that BDDS manages to keep despite using different performers.

On Sunday night, for example, I heard “The Sound and the Fury” concert – the theme of this summer’s concerts is “Novel Obsessions” – at the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin complex in Spring Green.

I will deal with the mixed reactions I had to the historic and architecturally iconic concert hall itself (below) in another post. Suffice it to say the acoustics were fine and the performers seemed comfortable on the stage and in the setting that seems to encourage intimacy.

You might think that the historic setting would be the star of the show. But it wasn’t.

That honor went to the two men from San Francisco in blue shirts and charcoal pants: violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau. (They and the BDDS, by the way, are not strangers. In San Francisco, the two perform with pianist Sykes as the San Francisco Piano Trio, below.)

That they played with terrific virtuosity and technical fluency was easy to perceive throughout the demanding program.

But the careful listener, the discerning ear, was more impressed by the rich tone the two men brought to their parts in a wide variety of music; by their unerring musicianship; and by their ability to blend, to dialogue with each other and with other players, including Sykes and flutist/co-director Stephanie Jutt.

Violinist Strauss (below) kicked things off with a passionate and playful reading of Robert Schumann’s Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Minor, Op. 105. It is a terrific, work, by turns dramatic and lyrical, that comes from the late period that in Schumann’s case is often underestimated because of his mental illness. That received wisdom simply has it wrong.

Then the special surprise guest – actor Sam White  (below) from Forward Theater in Madison – gave a stirring recitation from William Faulkner’s modernistic masterpiece of a novel, “The Sound and the Fury.” It was a well-chosen passage about the clock and the passage of time, subjective and objective time, and proved perfect set-up for flutist Jutt’s impressive performance of the rhythmically vital contemporary work, “Perpetual Noon” for flute and piano (2008) by the young American composer Kristin Kuster (born in 1973.)

But it was the last three works — by turns French, German and Latin American for contrast — that spotlighted the gifts of two imported guest artists as well as on the Sykes-Jutt team.

The key to Gabriel Faure’s late Piano Trio in D minor, Op. 120, is refinement, and, helped by Sykes, Strauss and Fonteneau (below) captured perfectly the special idiom that Faure developed. The three men ended up proving once again that the exquisite Faure – the slow movement simply broke your heart — is right at the top of the list of under-performed, under-appreciated composers.

In Brahms’ last Piano Trio in C Minor, Op., 101, the two string players easily handled the sheer heft and orchestral coloration of the classic work.

Then came the finale of a special arrangement – a quartet (below) that made the most of Jutt’s flute cutting through the string and the percussive piano parts — of Astor Piazzolla’s “The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires.”

It is a compilation of those wonderful “new tangos” that was by turns poignant and introspective and then suddenly exuberant. And once again, the two guests artists matched every mood, every twist and turn, of the music. And they topped it off with virtuosic ensemble playing that brought a closely attentive and particularly quiet audience to its feet for a prolonged standing ovation.

One could say much more about each piece, each composer and each performer.

But in the end the most impressive aspect was the sheer consistency of the music-making, despite the hectic schedule the BDDS keeps up for its three-week season.

As the Piazzolla and the other works so aptly demonstrated once again, BDDS is truly a chamber music group for all seasons.

Have you heard the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society so far this summer?

What did you think?

The Ear wants to hear.

Posted in Classical music

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