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Concert a fitting tribute to festival's co-founder

  • Jul 13, 2012
By John Farnworth From The Register-Guard July 13, 2012  The sell-out crowd that attended Wednesday’s Oregon Bach Festival concert at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall was treated to a very special and supremely musical program. First, it was all Bach. Although the music of many composers has been performed during the festival’s 42-year history, it is, after all, the music of Johann Sebastian Bach that sparked the birth of the festival back in 1970 and has been its cornerstone ever since. Second, the two men who created the festival were very much in evidence at the concert. Artistic Director Helmuth Rilling was in indisputable control of every aspect of the music making on stage, and the concert was dedicated to Executive Director Emeritus Royce Saltzman and his wife, Phyllis, on the occasion of their 60th wedding anniversary. The festival owes its being, heart and soul to these two men. The audience and the musicians knew it, and they showed their deep-felt appreciation. The motet “Der Geist Hilft Unser Schwachheit Auf” started the concert. The Berwick Chorus of 48 voices was divided into two parts, half the left, half on the right, the better to display the polyphony in the music’s design. The chorus was in excellent voice, marred only by one hesitant entrance by the sopranos. Bach’s Harpsichord Concerto in D Minor was performed by a small group of strings, with longtime festival keyboard player Boris Kleiner as soloist. Kleiner is an extremely competent and note-perfect player, but his playing is soft and reticent, and it often was lost in the overall sound of the music. Nevertheless, Kleiner was quite brilliant. He navigated the difficult score with ease, although his facial expressions were a trifle distracting, particularly in the second movement, Adagio. The last movement, Allegro, was the highlight of the piece — a wonderful, dance-like affair, full of joy, the soloist creating a veritable waterfall of cascading, brilliant sound. A motet, “Jesu, Meine Freude,” concluded the first half of the concert. A smaller chorus, now 24 voices, was supported by just two instruments, a small tracker organ, played by Kleiner, and a cello, masterfully played by Elena Cheah. The chorus did justice to the gorgeous fugal writing in this piece, with Bach using the four voice groups in continually shifting combinations. The second half of the concert commenced with the well-known Concerto in C Minor for Violin and Oboe. Solo violinist Gabriel Adorjan and solo oboist Allan Vogel performed this three-movement masterpiece with élan and perfect synchronization. The beautiful second movement, Adagio, was particularly well rendered, the two soloists playing a tender, rhapsodic duet that was almost more vocal than instrumental. The last movement, Allegro, opened with a fiery, jubilant, forceful new theme, which is tossed from violin to oboe to the all-string orchestra and back again. The concerto was the highlight of the concert for many, judging by the deafening applause at its conclusion. The concluding motet, “Singet dem Herr Nein Neues Lied,” is a joyous affair that was dispatched with gusto and fullness of sound. The split-into-two section chorus demonstrated an exciting and dazzling display of polyphony. The singing was full, powerful and joyful and was acknowledged by another thunderous, standing ovation. Chorus Master Kathy Saltzman Romey was brought on stage to receive accolades for her work rehearsing the Berwick Chorus. It was a happy evening of music making for everyone involved, the musicians, both vocal and instrumental, all with broad smiles. But the broadest smile of all was on the face of Helmuth Rilling. John Farnworth of Vida reviews classical music for The Register-Guard.