Friday, March 3, 2017

Music Mondays - Playing with Bach - 02/27/17

Bach: Prelude in D Major 
Paul Jacobs: Organist 
Bach: Excerpts from Bach Cantatas (arr. György Kurtág) 
Orion Weiss: Pianist 
Aaron Wunsch: Pianist 
Bach: Preludes from the Well-Tempered Clavier (arr. Grand Electric) 
Mark Dancigers: Electric Guitar 
Aaron Wunsch: Piano 
Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (arr. Calefax Reed Quintet) 
Calefax Reed Quintet 
Bach: Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565 (arr. Salvatore Sciarrino) 
Claire Chase: Flutist 
Bach: No. 5 and No. 2 of 10 Chorale Preludes (arr. Frederico Busoni) 
Orion Weiss: Pianist 
Bach: Goldberg Variations, BWV 988 (arr. Calefax Reed Quintet) 
Calefax Reed Quintet 

To most music lovers, Bach’s œuvre is timeless, and last Monday night the relentlessly enterprising Music Mondays series decided to give that claim the litmus test with a program that featured creative adaptations of some of the composer’s most beloved as well as lesser known works. To make things even more exciting, the concert would be performed by an attractive array of downright local (Aaron Wunsch being no less than Music Mondays’ artistic director) and not so local (The globe-trotting Calefax Reed Quintet coming all the way from Amsterdam, Netherlands) musicians.
And if the composer’s popularity had ever been questioned, the sight of the long line around the corner of Broadway and W. 93rd Street and then the packed Advent Lutheran Church long before the festivities started would have categorically dispelled any doubts.

For all the promises of innovative versions on Bach classics, the concert actually started with a traditional take of Bach’s Fugue in D Major by organist Paul Jacobs, which took us straight to early 18th century Germany. And the real thing sounded mighty good.
We remained literally and musically in the Lutheran realm with four Bach Cantatas arranged for four hands by modern Hungarian composer and pianist György Kurtág. This small set provided attractive, if no doubt tricky, material for Orion Weiss and Aaron Wunsch to display their impressive dexterity, and they sure did.
Aaron Wunsch stayed at the piano for Book I of The Well-Tempered Clavier, for which he was unexpectedly accompanied by… an electric guitar! The two instruments in fact blended surprisingly well, the guitar keeping a rather low but still noticeable profile, and this subdued rock’n’roll version of the three preludes was innovative and fun.
Next we moved on to the famed Goldberg Variations, which had been deftly adapted by the endlessly inquisitive Calefax Reed Quintet, and the result was as original as thrilling. Starting to play as they were entering the performance space, they eventually found their respective spots and unflappably kept on going all the way to Variation 15. Just like a bunch of colorful birds fluttering playfully, the five reed musicians, who occasionally switched instruments for maximum effect, beautifully highlighted the composition’s daunting complexity in their finely nuanced performance.
After intermission, Claire Chase treated the delighted audience to a boldly virtuosic tour de force as she brilliantly nailed the Toccata and Fugue in D Minor arranged for the flute by Salvatore Sciarrino all the way from the small mezzanine above the front door, right in the back of the church.
Orion Weiss came back for two of the 10 Chorale Preludes arranged by Frederico Busoni, the No. 5 keeping its solemn character while the No. 2 hit the ground running before expertly slowing down.
The Calefax Reed Quintet came back for the second part of The Goldberg Variations, from Variation 16 through Aria da capo, which they handled with the same flair and ingenuity as the first part. But that was not all.

To mark their New York City journey, the tireless ensemble had an encore up their sleeve, and it was quite appropriately the song “New Amsterdam” by Moondog & the London Saxophonic, which gave them the opportunity to demonstrate not only their expertise with reed instruments, but their singing talents as well. Bach would have approved.

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