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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Green Music Center / Sunday, June 28, 2015
Musicians include: Jeffrey Kahane, Jennifer Koh, Margaret Batjer, Benjamin Beilman, Elizabeth Prior, Peter Lloyd, Laura Reynolds, Russ deLuna, Leo Tsui, Douglas Brown, Benjamin Jaber, Danielle Kuhlmann, Robert deMaine, Aloysia Friedmann, Daniel Ching, William Fedkenhuer, John Largess, Joshua Gindele, Elise Shop Henry, Sandy Hughes and Joseph Edelberg

Pianist/Harpsichordist Jeffrey Kahane

BRANDENBURGS A SPIRITUAL GIFT IN FINAL CHAMBERFEST CONCERT

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, June 28, 2015

“Well, you should have been there.” A trite saying used too often by concertgoers? Sure. But surely it was the appropriate adage for the final Chamberfest concert June 28 in Sonoma State’s Weill Hall.

Capping a nine-event series mostly in Schroeder Hall, Jeffrey Kahane led ensembles of up to 20 musicians in an extraordinary traversal of Bach’s complete Brandenburg Concertos. Written in the small Thuringia town of Cöthen in 1721, the six are multi-movement works of instrumental complexity, underpinned in each by harpsichord continuo and strong bass and cello lines. The program notes referred to this complexity: A presentation of all concertos in a single evening requires a performing group of incredible depth, with individual musicians who are comfortable as both featured soloists and ensemble players.

As the works progressed during the first half (No. 1 in F Major, No. 3 in G Major, No. 5 in D Major) I found myself thinking at each ending, “That was sensational; that was my favorite,” only to uncover a new favorite when hearing the next Concerto. In the famous harpsichord solo in the D Major’s first movement Mr. Kahane played elegantly but as usual for him did something novel. At the section’s conclusion where the finger pyrotechnics and fast trills are ending, the music seems to call for a ritard and phrase broadening, an intimate invitation for the re-entry of ensemble. That’s the way it’s usually played, but he never broke tempo and moved straight to the finish with just a slight nod to his colleagues.

Throughout the evening thrilling playing abounded, especially from violinists Benjamin Bielman and Margaret Batjer, oboists Ashley Ertz and Laura Reynolds, flutists Sandy Hughes and Elise Shope Henry (Concerto No. 4) and trumpeter David Washburn in the concluding No. 2 Concerto. Some of the instruments were not of the Baroque era (oboes for example) but Mr. Washburn played the piercing Baroque trumpet with consummate skill, even able to integrate his luminous sound into the sonic texture when needed.

All through the program string vibrato was present but of low volume and short duration, even in the extended solo violin passages by Bach veteran Jennifer Koh in Concerto No. 1, and in the viola playing of Elizabeth Prior and Aloysia Friedmann in No. 6 that began the second half. In Number 6 the lovely Adagio was performed romantically but with a Baroque sensibility, as were the lament-like slow movements of No. 5 (Affettuoso) and No. 4 (Andante). In the latter Mr. Bielman carried the main theme with blistering scale playing and subtle phrase turns and slides.

The frequent interior-movement ensembles were captivating: cellist Andrew Shulman and violinist Daniel Ching joined by oboe and flute; a contrapuntal viola duo in No. 6; the harpsichord introduction with arpeggios in No. 3, the artist handing off a distant theme to the strings; and Ms. Batjer’s entrancing duo with Ms. Hughes in the Allegro of No. 5.

Preceding the final Concerto Mr. Kahane addressed the audience about the power of Bach’s music to overcome the often unspeakable political and social events of our day, and the spiritual force contained in the compositions of the featured Chamberfest composers: Bach, Beethoven and Brahms.

As at the end of the first part, the rollicking No. 6 produced a tornado of applause, and all the musicians were called to a line at the front of the stage. One audience member brought a single red rose for Mr. Kahane.

As the audience of 700 left the Hall there wasn’t the usual ecstatic chatter about the music, but something of a glow of happiness on many faces. This had been a seminal evening, due of course to the producer Zarin Mehta and his staff, the wonderful musicians, the vision of Jeffrey Kahane, but mostly to a man dead for 265 years. Bach.