Apparently everyone else in the world has been at BEMF these past two weeks. I was feeling a bit mopey that I was not also at BEMF, but that is entirely my own fault. However, I went to this concert last night, which was pretty much ok. The ensemble and chorus were a mixture of people from the Juilliard School here in New York and the Royal Academy of Music in London, with Masaaki Suzuki conducting. Also, Rachel Podger was the concertmistress. I was disappointed that she wasn’t one of the soloists for the Bach double violin concerto, but this concert seemed to be arranged mainly to offer a series of young instrumental soloists and the very (they all looked about 22!) young members of the ensemble a chance to perform.
And it wasn’t disappointing. I mentioned the Bach double concerto, so I’ll start with that. I love this piece – I played both parts of it as a violin student many years ago, and every time I hear it I’m surprised how much of it I still have basically memorized. The two soloists, Davina Clarke and Carrie Krause, directed the ensemble (a slimmed down subset of the fuller orchestra used for the two Bach cantatas that formed the remainder of the program) themselves as they played; this approach emphasized the more intimate chamber-music aspects of the concerto. (Also: have you ever noticed how baroque violinists don’t use chin or shoulder rests? It looks so awkward to me, but it’s HIP standard I guess, and probably if you’re used to it it works just fine.) The interplay between soloists and ensemble was very fine, especially in the second movement, which had an expressive pulse to it that was pretty much right on.
The two Bach cantatas (BWV 75, Die Elenden sollen essen, and BWV 11, Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen) were a little hit and miss. Among the hits were mezzo-soprano Anna Harvey, whose singing had a really beautiful ease of expression – I particularly liked “Ach, bleibe doch” from BWV 11, and her various moments of recitative sounded fluent and natural. I just checked her schedule, and apparently she was also at BEMF this year. Unlike me. But anyway. Soprano Mary Feminear has one of those voices that projects brilliantly, although in her first aria there were a few sudden warming-up type jolts of volume – it made me wish that I could hear her sing something more extended so I could get a better feel for what she sounds like. She also had a minor hurdle to clear in the form of the woodwind section, which did not always operate to specifications. I attended this concert with my mom, who played the flute for about 30 years and who comes from a family where pretty much everyone plays some sort of wind or brass instrument; she leaned over to me after Feminear’s last aria in BWV 11, “Jesu, dein Gnadenblicke,” which had extended solo writing for two baroque flutes and an oboe, and noted that the flutes were flat. It was not entirely their fault – strings tend to push sharp as a concert goes on (apparently brass as well?) and with a modern metal flute you can adjust, but with wooden baroque ones it’s harder. So any intonation issues in that last section can be pinned squarely on the flutes. Also, that oboe player? He also had several solo parts in BWV 75, and that young man was oboeing by the seat of his pants at several points – he was on the verge of the dreaded oboe squawk during I believe it was “Ich nehme mein Leiden mit Freuden auf mich.” Which is appropriate I guess?
But the baroque trumpet soloists were great – they got an extended chance to shine in the opening and closing choruses of BWV 11 as well as at several points in the first cantata.
So. All in all, not bad.