Dallas — For those of us who are Baroque music junkies, and especially for Bach lovers, there may be no better way than to ring in the new year than with a performance of all six of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos, performed on original instruments. That’s what the Dallas Bach Society provided on Wednesday evening, with mostly satisfying results.
Music Director James Richman chose to present the concertos not in their (likely) original order but in the sequence 1, 3, 5 (intermission) 6, 4, 2. Richman tends to pepper his concerts with remarks about the history of the pieces; this performance was no exception. He explained his sequencing of the concertos, asserting that they are almost always performed in this order. One can find plenty of programs online to refute this claim; still, his sequencing makes sense, especially placing Concerto No. 2 at the end, because it’s the only one with a trumpet part, so is the showiest of the lot.
There were several real standouts on the evening’s concert—Clare Cason, solo violinist, has a clean, crisp Baroque sound. She is mindful of period performance practice, with thoughtful, appropriate vibrato. And the first movement of the Concerto No. 4, where the solo violin has a few bars of spectacular, showy, and difficult runs? She was spot on.
Similarly, James Richman’s extended harpsichord cadenza in the first movement of Concerto No. 5 was positively virtuosic. In past hearings, Richman has sometimes sounded under-rehearsed, so it was refreshing to hear what he’s capable of when he’s at his best. It’s very good indeed.
Nathaniel Mayfield was an additional standout on valveless trumpet in the first and third movements of Concerto No. 2. Although his endurance seemed to falter a bit by the end of the third movement, the challenging first movement was exemplary.
There were a few disappointments among these highlights—the natural horn players in Concerto No. 1 struggled with the considerable difficulties of those instruments, and the upper string sections proved to lack depth.
Puzzlingly, orchestra personnel without solo turns were not named on the program. These musicians included violinists, a violist, cellists, and the two viola da gamba players featured in Concerto No. 6.
While the pews at the Church of the Incarnation do get a bit uncomfortable after a couple of hours, the authentic-instrument-friendly acoustics and beautiful setting make a great venue for this kind of music, while the complementary valet parking is helpful while construction at the church continues.
Perhaps Dallas Bach Society will add a wintertime performance of these concertos to its annual offerings, just as they perform Messiah and Sing-along Messiah each year. The church was fairly full, and the 7 p.m. concert time allowed the audience to get to their parties or homes in plenty of time to ring in the New Year.