Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Bach to Bach Weekend

San Francisco is blessed with a seemingly endless assortment of early music ensembles, including the California Bach Society, the American Bach Soloists , the San Francisco Bach Choir, and the Philharmonia Baroque. Most of these groups play with original instruments which takes some getting used to as a listener, but once you have done so, Bach and his contemporaries sound strange on modern instruments. Case in point: the performances by the San Francisco Symphony last weekend above under the Baroque and Renaissance music specialist Ton Koopman from The Netherlands, who is returning this week with another all-Bach program.

The Saturday evening concert started with the Orchestral Suite #4 by J.S. Bach in an energetic performance by a small ensemble, and was followed by the Cello Concerto in A Major by Johann Sebastian's third son, C.P.E. Bach, in a marvelous solo turn by Symphony cellist Peter Wyrick above.

After a jolly run through of C.P.E. Bach's swift little Symphony in G Major, the concert ended with one of J.S. Bach's most beautiful cantatas, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, featuring a soprano and trumpet soloist playing off of each other in the first and final movements. The soprano was the British Bach specialist Carolyn Sampson, who had my concert companion James Parr swooning in pleasure.

Mark Inouye, the Symphony's principal trumpet player above, was even more spectacular than usual. The sound of his modern instrument may have been inauthentic, but his playing was so fabulous and virtuosic that it didn't matter at all. Is there anything this guy can't do?

Also last weekend, there was a performance of J.S. Bach's monumental Mass in B Minor at the Calvary Presbyterian Church in Pacific Heights by the San Francisco Choral Society under conductor and artistic director Robert Geary. Sunday's matinee performance was not as good as expected from this ambitious and accomplished amateur chorus, as if they had bitten off more than they could chew.

The soloists (left to right above soprano Shauna Fallihee, alto Clifton Massey, tenor Brian Thorsett, and bass Nikolas Nackley) did not make much of an impression either, except for Thorsett whose beautiful high tenor is one of the reliable joys of local concerts. Maybe next time.


Axel Feldheim said...

That sounds like a great line-up indeed for the Jauchzet Gott. Authenticity be damned. Even that stickler Harnoncourt recorded it with a female singer instead of using a boy soprano, as he did with every other Bach cantata. Baroque trumpets are a great argument for the invention of valves.

I walked by Calvary Presbyterian this weekend during the intermission of the b-minor mass. I should have snuck in & heard Brian's Benedictus.

sfphoneguy said...

I thought the chorus itself was in good voice - but short on passion. Since they follow their conductor (and/or chorus-master), my assumption was that were they directed to sing more fully, they would have. Yes, the alto was a bit off at the beginning of his solo aria, but recovered nicely for the rest. The debacle with the bass and the horn player was just wierd...I wonder if a few more rehearsals might have shored up the overall performance...

TK said...

Somewhat off-topic, but did you know about 405 Shrader? I've never been but it looks like fun.

Civic Center said...

Dear TK: I have heard of it but never been. I've gotten awfully lazy about getting out of my Civic Center neighborhood because there's so much music going on within a couple of blocks walking distance.