Thursday, December 16, 2010

Genevieve Blanchard and Jochewed Schwarz perform music by J.S.Bach and four of his sons on flute, harpsichord and clavichord

We were gathered in the musical salon of pianist Jonathan Zak and his wife Adi Etzion-Zak in their Tel Aviv home on December 4th 2010 to hear a concert in the “Sounds and Words from the Baroque” early music concert series played on authentic instruments. “Bach, the Real Thing – Johann Sebastian Bach and his Four Sons” featured Canadian-born Baroque flautist Genevieve Blanchard and Jochewed Schwarz (harpsichord and clavichord). Informal, informative explanations as to the Bach family composers, their styles and the instruments the artists were playing added much to the evening’s enjoyment.

The soiree opened with J.S.Bach’s (1685-1750) Aria BWV 988 (the theme of the Goldberg Variations) from the Little Notebook for Anna Magdalena Bach. (Anna Magdalena Bach, the composer’s second wife, copied and transcribed reams of music for her husband when he was Cantor of Leipzig. Bach showed his appreciation by dedicating the Little Notebook to her; there are two volumes –1722 and 1725). Not often heard on these two instruments, the artists played a version in which the flute played the melody, with the harpsichord functioning as basso continuo. Blanchard was playing a traverse Baroque flute built by Boaz Berney and Schwarz’s harpsichord is a copy of a 1679 Couchet harpsichord built by Reinhard von Nagel. Performing in a smaller space than a concert hall meant that we were to hear the rich mellifluousness of Blanchard’s tone and the real presence and forthright sound of the harpsichord. Both artists graced the piece with an array of ornaments.

In addition to the Clavier-Buechlein for Anna Magdalena, Bach also compiled a “notebook” in 1720 (its haphazard collection referred to by some as a “scrapbook”) for his eldest son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach. Written in Cothen, when Bach was in the employ of Prince Leopold, it was aimed at instructing 10-year-old Wilhelm Friedemann in the rudiments of keyboard technique, clefs etc., and includes valuable information on ornamental practice of the time. Schwarz spoke of learning much about J.S.Bach and his pedagogical methods from the collection. “Applicatio and Air Italian” were performed by Schwarz on a “Bundfrei” clavichord. After one’s ears have taken a few seconds to adjust to the tiny, intimate sound of the instrument, one begins to hear the dynamic variation the clavichord offers, as well as the possibility of using finger vibrato for expression. Schwarz spoke of en 18th century attitude of defining people as “clavichord people” (quiet, introverted) and “harpsichord people” (more outspoken). In 1753 C.P.E.Bach claimed that “a good clavichordist makes an accomplished harpsichordist, but not so the reverse”.

As to Wilhelm Friedemann (1710-1784) himself, a gifted organist and improviser, much of his oeuvre was not published during his lifetime. His early sonatas, being technically very difficult, had met with disapproval among players. The Twelve Polonaises, composed between 1754 and 1765, might have been written with the intention of winning him more public favour: keyboard Polonaises were fashionable at the time. Friedemann’s Polonaises are stylized (as are those of Chopin), technically demanding and musically varied, encouraging the player to ornament creatively. Schwarz performed the F minor Polonaise, a piece upholstered with heavy textures and plenty of dissonances. The Eight Fugues, dedicated to the counterpoint-loving Princess Amalie of Prussia (a noted composer in her own right) each fall into in three parts and are a curious mix of old and new, reflecting the composer’s eccentricities in their capricious changes of subject and style. Schwarz played the F minor fugue (c.1778) which harks way back to the music of Sweelinck.

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), Bach’s second son, was one of the best-known keyboard players in Europe, his compositional output including some thirty sonatas and other pieces for keyboard. His clavier sonatas, known to and highly respected by Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven, were a turning point in musical form, issuing in the Classical style. Blanchard and Schwarz’s performance of his Sonata for Flute and Harpsichord in E major Wq 84 (1747) was responsive to the composer’s lucid style, Blanchard’s tone warmly colored, her phrase ends sensitive, with Schwarz’s performance ever aware of Bach’s expressive idiom and the play between the two instruments. The opening Allegretto played off harpsichord and flute, the right hand of the keyboard in constant dialogue with the flute. The second movement - Adagio di molto – its cantabile character not ignoring the dissonant underlay, was followed by an energetic, witty game of hide-and-seek in the final Allegro assai.

Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782) was J.S.Bach’s 11th and youngest son. His teachers were his father and his half-brother C.P.E.Bach. He spent time as organist of Milan Cathedral and in 1762 moved to London to take up an appointment as music master to Queen Charlotte Sophia, wife of George III. He was a friend and mentor to the young Mozart. Referred to as the “London Bach”, he wrote cantatas, a number of operas and instrumental music and made history in 1768 by being the first person to give a solo piano performance in London. His Sonata opus 2 no.5 for flute and harpsichord (1770), boasts fluid melodies, his German musical background combined with Italian grace.

Jochewed Schwarz referred to Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795), J.S.Bach’s ninth son, as “the forgotten Bach” and spoke of his music as forming a bridge between J.S.Bach and Beethoven. Despite his having studied Law, J.C.F.Bach took the job of chamber musician to Count Wilhelm at Bueckenburg in 1750, remaining in his employ till his death. Schwarz performed his Polonaise and Allegro in F.

Taught initially by their father, J.S.Bach’s sons each found their own individual style of expression in a musical milieu that was gradually merging into the Classical era. The evening’s program offered a fine opportunity to consider and compare the music and personalities of members of this great musical family. It was fitting that the recital finish with another work of J.S.Bach – his Sonata after Trio Sonata in D minor BWV 527 for organ (c.1727), transcribed, as was common in the Baroque for other instruments, in this case, for flute and harpsichord. Opening with an Andante movement, the artists addressed each motif, indulged in much ornamenting, giving expression to its noble character. Following the carefully crafted reading of the Adagio e dolce movement, the audience delighted in the virtuosic treatment of the contrapuntal intricacies of the final Vivace.

Jochewed Schwarz and Genevieve Blanchard offer their audiences performance that is well researched and well presented, involving those gathered in the art of authentic Baroque performance.

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