Tuesday, April 29, 2008

J.S.Bach-His Sons,His Students

“J.S. Bach: His Sons, His Students” was presented by three soloists of the PHOENIX Ensemble: Genevieve Blanchard (Baroque flute), David Shemer (harpsichord) and Myrna Herzog, PHOENIX’s musical director, (viola da gamba and quinton).

The concert opened with Johann Gottlieb Goldberg’s (1727-1756) Trio-Sonata in C Major. Goldberg was a German virtuoso harpsichordist, organist and composer. He was, at age 14, probably the first performer of J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” written as a soporific to help the insomniac Count Kaiserling fall asleep. Goldberg was a pupil of Bach’s from 1733 to 1746 and was lauded by Bach for his industry, improvisation and reading skills. This trio-sonata, in fact, had previously been attributed to Bach. Herzog, in this work, played a quinton, a small, fretted bowed instrument rested on the player’s lap. Herzog’s instrument is an original 18th century quinton, bearing the most exquisite carved head of a young person (or an angel). The head was built by a monk by the name of La Fille, famous for his carved heads for bowed instruments. The sonata began with a gracious, flowing Adagio movement. The second movement – Alla breve – was fugual. Blanchard’s gorgeous creamy tone was wonderfully set off by the defined quality of the quinton. The Largo was a touching conversation between the two. The Gigue was energetic and exciting but taken at a pace which was measured, giving the listener time to hear details.

The German composer, Karl Friedrich Abel (1723-1787), was a bass viol player at the Dresden court. In c.1757, he went to London, where he directed a concert series together with Johann Christian Bach (J.S. Bach’s 11th son). Both men became chamber musicians to Queen Charlotte. The concerts, themselves often included Abel’s own works played by him. Abel was one of the last great proponents of the viol. His Sonata in G major for viola da gamba and continuo, performed by Brazilian-born Herzog (this time, on the bass viol) together with Shemer, was from the “Music Book of the Countess of Pembroke”. The latter was a pupil of Abel’s. It is a very idiomatic and flamboyant solo piece for the viol and Herzog’s performance was brilliant, interesting and inviting to the audience. Apart from being very much a technically demanding solo piece for the viol, in three movements, the work is melodious, genial and energetic. Abel’s Adagio movements were much talked about: the work’s Adagio did not disappoint.

And to Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), who was often referred to as the “London Bach”. His Trio-Sonata no.5 in A major in two movements, gives each instrument a very individual role – the viol playing a firm, secure basso continuo (providing the harmonic structure of Baroque music), the flute playing lovely legato lines, the harpsichord drawing the listener into listening to its rich, intricate and energetic role of this scintillating, attractive work.

German composer Johann Ludwig Krebs (1730-1780) studied the organ with J.S. Bach in Leipzig, for whom he also worked as a copyist. Krebs never became an organist of Bach’s caliber but his counterpoint (linear writing in a number of voices) is considered by many to be comparable to Bach’s. Canadian-born Blanchard (playing a boxwood flute made by Alain Weemails, Brussels) and Shemer performed his Sonata da Camera in e minor, no. 4, composed in Leipzig in 1762. The first movement – a Largo – is lyrical. The Vivace movement was energetic with Blanchard playing fast arpeggios (broken chords). The Affettuoso movement was moving, with some lovely ornamenting. After two lilting Minuets, the artists performed the Polonaise (a styalized form of the stately Polish dance) with some nteresting tempo changes.

Carl Philipp Emanual Bach (1714-1788) was the second of J.S.Bach’s sons and one of the founders of the Classical style. Sometimes called “The Hamburg Bach”, he published an important treatise – “Essay on the True Art of Playing Keyboard Instruments” and put much energy into protecting the legacy of his father. David Shemer performed C.P.E.Bach’s “Variations Upon La Folia” for harpsichord. “La Folia” (The Folly) was a well-known melody and harmonic scheme in Europe of the time, used by composers from the Baroque to today as an ostinato (recurring) basis for variations. C.P.E.Bach’s must surely be among the most interesting! Shemer, born in Riga, teaches in Jerusalem, performs and is the musical director of the Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra. His reading of the variations was a musical adventure: each small variation wore a different guise, each was a contrast to the former. They ranged from pensive to capricious, to dramatic, to serious; and there were harmonic surprises galore. It was a clean and brilliant performance but not just – it had much to say and the audience was thrilled.

The last work on the program was J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Trio-Sonata in D for flute, viola da gamba and continuo, BWV 1028. It was originally composed for viol and harpsichord but worked well the textures of three instruments. It opened with a flowing, singing Adagio movement, to be followed by an Allegro in which melodic lines were clean and rich. The Andante was given a singing, intimate reading, with very sensitive and beautifully-shaped gamba playing on the part of Herzog. As an “aperitif” the trio played a J.S.Bach organ chorale variation.

I think we were all basking in the highly pleasurable ensemble sound and fine interpretation this PHOENIX trio offered. St Andrew’s Church is an intimate, tranquil venue in Jerusalem, the right size and atmosphere for Early Music performance.

“J.S.Bach’s Legacy: His Sons, His Students”
Soloists of the PHOENIX Ensemble:
Genevieve Blanchard-Baroque flute
David Shemer-harpsichord
Myrna Herzog-viola da gamba, quinton
St Andrew’s Scots Memorial Church
February 28, 2008

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