The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: An outstanding concert by two harpsichordists explores the rich Baroque repertoire of arrangements and transcriptions. Let’s hear more!

November 25, 2015
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ALERT: The will be NO free Friday Noon Musicale this week at the First Unitarian Society of Madison, 900 University Bay Drive. The musicales will resume on Dec. 4.

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-FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John-Barker

By John W. Barker

Trevor Stephenson (below left), the versatile founder, director and keyboard player of the Madison Bach Musicians, ventured another early music novelty last Saturday evening at the Madison Christian Community Hall on Old Sauk Road. (All performance photos are by John W. Barker.)

He and a colleague, Stephen Alltop (below right) from Northwestern University, braved our football traffic and our first snowstorm to bring their respective harpsichords for a joint program.

It was called “Music for Two Harpsichords,” but a better title would have been “Music for Two Harpsichordists.”

Stephenson and Alltop two harpsichords

The fact is, only one item on the program was actually written for two harpsichords playing together. This was the Concerto for Two Harpsichords  in C Major (BWV 1061), for which the string-ensemble parts are purely optional — and which were dispensed with in this case. (For the harpsichord-only version, see the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The two artists did play otherwise together, but in transcriptions.

They took several selections from Pièces de clavecin en concert by Jean-Philippe Rameau, which Rameau (below) himself adapted from purely harpsichord pieces into trios for harpsichord and two other instruments. But these were played in adaptations that turned the other instrument parts into a second harpsichord.

Jean-Philippe Rameau

And there was a transcription for two harpsichords of the Fandango finale from the Quintet No. 4 in D Major by Luigi Boccherini (below) for guitar and string quartet.

Boccherini with cello 1

In between these works there were solo keyboard segments.   Alltop played three of the Preludes and Fugues from Book I of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Well-Tempered Clavier” and Stephenson played three of Domenico Scarlatti’s 555 harpsichord sonatas.

For some extra spice, Tania Tandias (below), of local Flamenco dance activities, contributed some tambourine rhythms to a pair of the Rameau pieces, and she worked up a lot of castanet excitement in the Boccherini.

Tania Tandias

The two keyboard artists are each wonderful musicians, and obviously are compatible partners as well as gifted individual soloists. Alltop (below) matches Stephenson’s witty commentaries with wonderfully articulate and informed discussion.

Stephen Alltop speaks

Their two harpsichords are, inevitably, quite distinct in tone, so that it is possible to discern each player’s role. Fortunately, too, the Christian Community’s hall is moderate in size and intimate, a perfect acoustical setting for such keyboard playing.

The Stephenson-Alltop partnership deserves to continue. There is a lot of actual two-harpsichord literature out there. Francois Couperin wrote a good deal of music for the combination, as did a number of Elizabethan composers. It would be wonderful if such material could be explored in further ventures like this one, and by these two splendid artists.

Do remember the Madison Bach Musicians’ annual Baroque Holiday Concert, which features cantatas by Johann Sebastian Bach and music by Georg Philipp Telemann and Arcangelo Corelli. It will take place at 8 p.n. on Saturday, Dec. 12, at the First Congregational United Church of Christ, near Camp Randall. For more information, visit:

http://madisonbachmusicians.org/december-12-2015/


Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians return to their roots in moving and impressive renditions of two cantatas and two concertos.

October 6, 2014
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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 20 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

Trevor Stevenson’s Madison Bach Musicians (below) returned to their core commitment in their first concert of the new season – their 11th — devoted entirely to Johann Sebastian Bach, and focused on his sacred cantatas.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

There were two of the cantatas,  written for solo voices without choir. The accompanying ensemble consisted of a quartet of string players, with harpsichord, reproducing the scale of performance that Bach himself would have used.

By far the best-known of Bach’s solo cantatas is No. 82, “Ich habe genug” (“I Am Content,” the title aria of which can be heard sung by the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer Dieskau at the bottom in a YouTube video). In the cantata the believer confronts death with the comfort of faith. Though the composer adapted it for female voice, this work was written for baritone, and is most frequently performed and recorded that way. In two of the three arias, an obbligato oboe is added for creating a kind of duet.

Baritone Joshua Copeland (below top) offered strong and nicely shaped singing, with a fine German diction. The oboe playing by Baroque oboe expert Luke Conklin (below bottom) was beautifully eloquent.

Joshua Copeland BW

Luke Conklin

The other cantata, No. 58, “Ach Gott, manches Herzeleid” (O God, What Heartache) is a duet cantata, but with a novel (if typically Bachian) spin: in two framing arias, the baritone sings reflected texts, while the soprano intones the melody of Lutheran chorales. The central aria, however, is hers alone, and Chelsea Morris (below) — a now-beloved Madison familiar — revealed her expressive artistry with stronger, more ringing power than we have yet heard from her.

Chelsea Morris soprano

Flanking the two cantatas were examples of Bach’s concerto writing.

To begin, only the first movement was played of the Harpsichord Concerto in D minor (BWV 1052), with Stevenson himself as the soloist, though his work was richly integrated with the string playing.

At the end came the now-standard reconstruction of Bach’s lost Concerto for Violin and Oboe, based on its survival as a Two-Harpsichord Concerto (BWV 1060). For this, most of the players (joined by a supplemental violinist) chose to play standing up. Without slighting the always vivacious playing of violinist Kangwon Kim (below), it must be admitted that the show was stolen by the beautifully colored and nuanced playing of oboist Conklin. The performance was truly stunning, bringing the audience to its feet in appropriate excitement. It proved a truly wonderful example of MBM presentation at its best!

Kangwon Kim

The Saturday night performance was given in the recently rebuilt sanctuary of Christ Presbyterian Church, a new and acoustically stimulating venue for Stephenson to explore.

As always, Stephenson (below) himself prefaced the concert with his own lecture, delivered with his usual charm and humor, and this time not only discussing the music on the program, but giving in 40 minutes a virtual course in Baroque music-making.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Coming next is their fourth annual Christmas Concert, which always features unusual Renaissance and Baroque fare for the holiday season. It takes place on Saturday, December 13,  with a 7:15 p.m. lecture and an 8 p.m. concert at the First Congregational United Church of Christ at 1609 University Avenue — something not to be missed.

For more information, go to: http://madisonbachmusicians.org

 

 


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