By Sheila Abrams
The concert Saturday evening, titled All Bach: Brandenburg & Beyond, was, to start with, NOT all Bach. The event, the season’s final concert in the 24th Raritan River Music Festival, held at the Clinton Presbyterian Church, began with a unique and delightful presentation.
Alex Tryon, a fifth-grader at the Reading-Fleming School, played the world premiere of his own startlingly beautiful composition for solo piano, entitled Rain, for which he received a rousing ovation from the audience. Tryon, born in 2001, was one of three winners of the Fourth Annual Hunterdon County Young Composer Contest. The piece, along with other winning works by young composers, will be performed in a concert on Saturday, June 1, at the North Branch of the Hunterdon County Library. The library is one of the sponsors of the competition.
The concert then proceeded to Bach as promised. The music on tap was all the work of Johann Sebastian, the father of a large family which included several composers, and, more to the point, was the grand master of Baroque music.
Bach was born in 1685 and lived until 1750, well beyond the average life expectancy of the time. That this was a rich period in music history is putting it mildly. Among the composers who lived and worked during Bach’s lifetime, whose work is still frequently performed, were Handel (born just a month before), Vivaldi, Telemann, Scarlatti, Pachelbel, Purcell, Rameau, Corelli and Buxtehude. But Bach, born into a musical family and trained and working as a musician and composer virtually from childhood, is the one who most defined the period.
The music Saturday evening was provided by the Soclair Ensemble, working, as has become fashionable in recent years, on period instruments, offering the opportunity to hear the music as the composer conceived and heard it in his lifetime.
The seven musicians, sometimes called the “house band” of the longstanding Soclair Music Festival, has presented baroque music true to its period since long before it became stylish. Under the direction of harpsichordist Edward Brewer, the group consists of Sandra Miller, Baroque flute, Virginia Brewer, Baroque oboe and oboe d’amore, Nancy Wilson, Baroque violin, Vita Wallace, Baroque violin, Louise Schulman, Baroque viola, and Myron Lutzke, Baroque cello. Their sound is distinctive.
The program consisted on the Concerto in A Major for Oboe d’Amore and Strings, which is an adaptation of a piece originally composed for harpsichord. It was followed by the Suite No. 2 in B Minor for Flute and Strings. This beautiful and richly varied work is a series of short dances, with brief pauses between them. They are spritely, filled with lovely tunes, intricate detail and flights of fancy.
Following an intermission, the ensemble offered four unusual pieces, selections from Bach’s cantatas, with melodies composed for voice adapted for instruments. Different combinations of instruments played each aria, the vocal line being picked up at times by the oboe or the flute, at others by a violin or the cello.
The concert ended with one of the most beautiful pieces of music ever written: the Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 for Flute, Violin, Harpsichord Concertante and Strings. Its melodies are woven into intricate musical patterns like delicate and beautiful lace. It was a joy to hear in the hands of these gifted musicians.
It’s an amusing historic footnote to the Brandenburgs (there are six in all) that they were probably the best job application ever made. Bach wrote them in the hope of getting an appointment to the court of the Margrave Christian Ludwig of Brandenburg. He didn’t get the job. We think the Margrave was the one who missed out.
It happens the Margrave was not the only one who missed out when it came to Bach’s music. Though his work was studied and admired by the Classical masters who followed him, such as Mozart, Haydn and Beethoven, his music (as well as that of his fellow Baroque composers) was widely considered old fashioned and rarely performed. It was largely through the efforts of Felix Mendelssohn that Bach’s music underwent a revival some 75 years after he died. It’s terrible to think that, if it hadn’t been for Mendelssohn’s efforts, we might have missed out too.