The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society brings invention and energy to superb performances of three masterpieces by Bach, Mozart and Mendelssohn

June 26, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 12 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. Barker also took the performance photos.


By John W. Barker

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opened the final weekend of its 25th season at the Overture Center’s Playhouse on Friday night in a first-class program of three undeniable masterpieces.

The first was the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major by Johann Sebastian Bach. An appropriately sized chamber group (below) consisted of nine string players plus harpsichord, with the three soloists on two flutes and violin.

BDDS 2016 Bach Brandenburg JWB

The playing was clear and precise, with elegant flute playing by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt (far right) and Ivana Ugrčić (center)  and fabulous virtuosity from violinist Hye-Jin Kim (left).

BDDS 2016 Bach Brandenburg 4 soloists JWB

The second work was Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 25, K. 503. (Remember that this summer is the 25th anniversary season of BDDS.)

For this, the BDDS mustered a miniaturized orchestra of eight string players, three winds, and two substitutes (a violin for oboe, a cello for second bassoon). Though the concerto is a big-scaled one, this kind of performance suggests what might have been done in a salon musicale of the composer’s day.

BDDS 2016 Mozart PIano Concerto 25 JWB

For Jeffrey Sykes (below) as piano soloist it was a stellar outing, his playing marked by agility and vivacity. Also a bit of wit. For the first movement, he prepared his own cadenza, in which he carefully contemplated the main themes of the movement. When he came to the later part of its first theme, he discovered that its notes could become the opening notes of La Marseillaise (which had not been written yet). He carefully pondered, then moved on, unwilling to follow that explosive direction. (No Mozart on the Revolutionary barricades!)

jeffrey sykes

In all, it was a finely scaled-down performance, one that worked beautifully.

The last work was Felix Mendelssohn’s teenage miracle, the Octet in E-flat for strings. This work our eight players took on with a fine balance of exuberance and introspection—the fugal finale quite dazzling. (You can hear the final ,movement in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Part of the fascination of this score is how the young Mendelssohn was constantly able to devise, for each player, individual contributions to make to the whole. And actually witnessing the performance allows one to follow these interactions quite compellingly.

We could see the splendid musicians the BDDS brings together just relishing their chance to work together in such music. (And it was interesting to compare with the superlative excitement of the Willy Street Chamber Players when they performed it last summer.)

BDDS 2016 Mendelssohn Octet JWB

That makes 25 years of BDDS as of now.

Let’s have another 25, and maybe still another 25 after that — maintaining one of the happy mainstays of Madison’s summer musical life!

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