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Small group Bach pieces should benefit in Beall

  • Jul 12, 2013
Terry McQuilkin From The Register-Guard July 12, 2013 CORVALLIS — Oregon State University’s Austin Auditorium, part of the LaSells Stewart Center, was only about half full Wednesday night when the Portland Baroque Orchestra made its second stop here on a four-city Oregon Bach Festival tour that concludes in Eugene today. Those who were in attendance heard an exquisite program of music by Johann Sebastian Bach played by a crack ensemble of early music specialists. huggett-345x480Listeners who have heard the PBO remember that the group offers “historically informed” performances, employing period instruments and endeavoring to use the most reliable scholarship to create performances that replicate earlier playing styles and tempos. Portland Baroque is much smaller than a conventional orchestra, and no more than seven performers occupied the stage at the same time. Under the leadership of violinist Monica Huggett, the orchestra opened with a vibrant performance of the Suite No. 3 in D, BWV 1068, which begins with a brilliant “French” overture, followed by the familiar “Air” (with Huggett and violinist Rob Diggins effectively bringing out the wonderful intertwining melodic lines). It ended with a series of Baroque dances, played with energetic vigor. Listeners familiar with Bach’s triple harpsichord concerto would have recognized the second work on the program, the Concerto in D for Three Violins, BWV 1064R. Since what is believed to be the original version was lost, scholars had to reconstruct that concerto (hence, “R” in the catalogue number) from Bach’s reworked harpsichord version. Solo passages are fairly evenly distributed among the three soloists — violinists Huggett, Diggins and Carla Moore — and all three (with solid support from their ensemble colleagues) performed with precision and nuance. Each produced a distinctive sound, making the alternation of solo lines all the more interesting, although Huggett’s playing stood out as the most vital and most consistent. Following intermission, guest flutist Stephen Schultz joined Huggett, cellist Tanya Tomkins and harpsichordist Susan Jensen in presenting a polished account of the Trio Sonata from “The Musical Offering,” BWV 1079. Although all four played with considerable sensitivity, it often was hard to hear the flutist. I took into account the differences between modern and Baroque flutes, but I suspect that some balance adjustments could have been made, even with the limitations of the 1,200-seat hall’s relatively flat acoustics. One more piece in D Major, the “Brandenburg Concerto” No. 5, closed out the program. This is the only one of the “Brandenburgs” to feature the harpsichord as a soloist instead of merely as a “continuo” instrument. For this performance, the festival’s artistic director designate, Matthew Halls, played harpsichord, and he delivered the first movement’s extended solo with spellbinding virtuosity.
Rounding out the concertino group of soloists were Huggett and Schultz, who, as before, played with accuracy and refinement. The very capable ripieno group included violinist Carla Moore, violist Victoria Gunn Pich, cellist Tanya Tomkins and bassist Curtis Daily.
It was a dynamic conclusion to an evening of satisfying music-making, one that I’m tempted to hear again in the more resonant acoustics of Beall Hall. Terry McQuilkin is an adjunct instructor of composition at the University of Oregon. He regularly reviews classical music concerts for the Register-Guard.