Dallas — One of the questionable joys of the cyber world is the way things can mysteriously vanish from your computer. This was the case withy my review of the excellent presentation by the Dallas Bach Society on Oct. 12 at Dallas City Performance Hall. In some ways, this was a fortuitous development because it allows for reconsideration with the advantage of the passage of time. This is not to say that the original review was not positive—it certainty was—but looking back puts immensity of their accomplishment in better perspective.
And an immense production it was. The society fielded a full Baroque orchestra, distinguished vocal soloists, a chorus and a fully costumed and authentically choreographed Baroque dance troupe. The program featured the music of Jean-Philippe Rameau, one of the giants of the late Baroque, which is not as extensively curated as other Baroque masters (such as Bach himself) and thus presents the further challenge of obtaining critical editions and a decent set of parts. Putting all this together must have been a daunting task, but the results were nothing short of spectacular.
Artistic Director James Richman has to get a large part of the credit, but a performance on this scale would have been impossible without a supportive board of directors. He has also assembled a core group of musicians and singers who are dedicated to the original performance practices movement. Over the years of performing together, the members of the Bach Society have an excellent sense of ensemble and blend. They also have a mastery of their notoriously unpredictable instruments, which means that intonation is remarkably better than with some other similar groups. Another head start on a program like this is Richman’s unfailing instincts about how this music should sound, combined with his musicologist’s level of research. He greatly impressed with a solo turn on the harpsichord playing Rameau’s Pièces de clavecin from his Nouvelles Suites, 1724.
The guest dance troupe was the distinguished New York Baroque Dance Company, led by Catherine Turocy, and their performance was superlative and like a peek back in time. (Several local dancers, including Contemporary Ballet Dallas' Valerie Tabor Shelton, were on the program.)
Baroque ballet is fascinating to watch. It is incredibly stylized with poses as important as the movements. Fans of modern ballet with see the beginnings of all of the techniques. At least in this presentation, there were no lifts or leaps, no pointe shoes, and very little partnering.
There was a lot of the fast footwork that is so familiar, usually done with one leg stationary and the other doing the movements around it (ronde de jambe).
Sometimes beating the feet rapidly while in the air in the air (battu) or by sweeping the available foot along the floor to an extended point (tendu). The graceful movement of the arms was ever present as was the pleasant facial expressions. In fact, when they were wearing masks that featured the same sort of expression, it was hard to tell the difference.
The vocal soloists were equally impressive. Soprano Ann Monoyios was a guest artist. She has appeared with all of the outstanding Baroque ensembles, such as those of Christopher Hogwood and John Eliot Gardiner. Her recording of Haydn’s Creation for Sony has been highly praised. Tenor Randall Umstead, in a DBS debut, is the Associate Professor of Voice and Chair of the Division of Vocal Studies at Baylor University. Soprano Claire Daniels, also in a DBS debut, is featured in other Dallas area groups such as the Orpheus Chamber Singers.
This concert was a unique occurrence in Dallas. We were transported to the glittering pre-revolutionary France to see the kind of entertainment that was enjoyed by the Royalty. This world existed in a bubble with the rest of the country living in squalor on the outside. Soon, the two worlds would become aware of each other as the barrier slowly vanished and neither side much liked what they saw. By then, the influence of the French Baroque had spread around the world and its lasting impact assured. Seeing a program like this in SMU’s Caruth Auditorium took some imagination to picture the elaborate gilded theaters of the era. However, once the performance started, the time machine effect was complete.