MUSIC REVIEW: Baldwin Wallace Bach Fest by Laura Kennelly

Chatham Baroque Bach and Before Bach Festival Chatham Baroque, Andrew Fouts, baroque violin, Patricia Halverson, viola da gamba, and Scout Pauley, theorbo.

Fri 4/20-Sun 4/22

Yep. Bach was back at Baldwin Wallace University. As the slickly magazine-style program revealed, the 86th Bach Festival went back to Bach (last year’s Brahms instead of Bach, raised a few eyebrows).

Patrons this year enjoyed a versatile and deliciously musical smorgasbord of Bach spread out over three days. The Bach St. John Passion on Saturday night was the headline event with a full choral and orchestral presentation conducted by Dirk Garner.

There were also three other formal concerts. plus short Festival Brass selections (conducted by John Brndiar), Das Rennen Bach (a 5K run), a lecture by a distinguished Bach scholar (Daniel R. Melamed from Indiana University), an open house at the Riemenschneider Bach Institute and a Bach service at Berea United Methodist Church.

The Friday and Saturday afternoon concerts, the only ones I was able to attend, beautifully showed how both old and new approaches to Bach could honor the traditional and the contemporary. No true music lover has to choose the one or reject the other.

In the first formal concert on Friday afternoon, dedicated to historical performance (i.e. played on older instruments that needed frequent tuning), the Chatham Baroque delighted listeners with selections outlining “Bach and Before.” One work by J. S. Bach (Trio Sonata No. 3 in D Minor, BWV 527) as well as pieces by Biber (no, not that Biber), Rosenmüller, Erlebach, Buxtehude and Berali, revealed what was happening musically just before and during Bach’s life. Bach, like any other working musician, tried to find what would “sell.”

All the works, by names generally unknown to non-music majors now (with the exception, of course, of J. S. Bach), were beautifully and persuasively presented by the Chatham Baroque and a few guests. The program listed Andrew Fouts, with guest Alice Culin-Ellison, violins; Patricia Halverson, viola da gamba; Scott Pauley, theorbo; and guest Nicole Keller, organ and harpsichord.

As I listened, I was reminded that this music, now strange to us, was “pop” back in the day. There was an extemporaneous feel, with a persistent beat (especially in the Bertali) and trading off of melodic lines that still lives today, especially in jazz, but also in country and folk.

Saturday afternoon brought a return of the Kenari Quartet (see previous review here) and a program of inventive compositions for vocal and instrumental performers by David Maslanka (1943-2017). Why Maslanka at a Bach Festival? To show how Bach lives on through his music. More to the point, Oberlin graduate, Maslanka turned to J. S. Bach for inspiration for his “Recitation Book” and “Song Book.”

Saxophonists Bob Eason, Kyle Baldwin, Corey Dundee and Steven Banks were joined by Josh Ryan (marimba), Dylan Sanzenbacher (organ) and the Baldwin Wallace Treble Choir (directed by Jordan Saul). They expertly wove their contributions into a smoothly running, diverse,  and beautiful concert..

BOTTOM LINE: It’s always worth the drive. Bach Festival, April 12-14, 2019 will feature Bach’s Mass in B Minor as well as appearances by the Anderson & Roe Piano Duo and the Apollo’s Fire Baroque Orchestra. For information about next year’s Bach Festival at Baldwin Wallace see bw conservatory/bach-festival/.

[Written by Laura Kennelly]

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