Brent Wissick

Review: Brent Wissick and Eric Smith, viola da gamba in recital | Dallas Bach Society | Private Residence

Sixes and Sevens

The Dallas Bach Society offers a house concert celebrating the viola da gamba and Renaissance and Baroque music.

published Saturday, January 30, 2016

Photo: Dallas Bach Society
Brent Wissick and James Richman perform on viola de gamba and harpsichord, from a 2012 concert


Flower MoundDallas Bach Society’s house concerts in Flower Mound are some of the most elegant and musically exciting events occurring in the Dallas/Fort Worth area. Not only are they wonderfully convenient for those of us who live in Denton County, but also they include all the elements of a memorable evening: good food, great company, and glorious music.

Friday evening’s performance, at the Flower Mound home of Michael Mathews and Kyle Mistrot, featured a program of viola da gamba music from the Renaissance and Baroque. Brent Wissick, a professor of early music at University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, joined local early music specialist Eric Smith and Dallas Bach Society Artistic Director James Richman for a varied and delightful concert. Saturday night's concert happens at another house, in Dallas.

The viol family, a group of (mostly) six stringed, bowed, fretted instruments including the gamba, were largely set aside with the development of modern bowed string instruments in the Baroque period. However, a small group of stalwarts still makes, studies, and plays these fascinating instruments, preserving the repertoire and maintaining a connection to our musical past.

Wissick performed on a seven-string gamba, while Smith’s sported six strings. Both musicians have beautiful sounds in lyrical passages. Smith, who appears with multiple local groups as a cellist as well, continues to hone his gamba playing. With this concert, he demonstrated such a high level of playing that the Metroplex is truly lucky to have him as an early music resource. Wissick, also a versatile and talented player—he can even accompany himself on gamba while singing, no small feat—revealed his skills as a pedagogue, too. His remarks to the audience, erudite and entertaining, made me feel for a moment as if I were in the best of early music seminars. (Although graduate classes are seldom held in lovely homes with a skilled bartender and elegant food at the ready, alas.)

The music ranged from late Renaissance variations on a madrigal, by Richardo Rogniono, to a Baroque sonata by Boismortier and a suite by Schenck. Woven in between were tunes from Marais’s Pièces de Viol and two songs—one, indeed, sung by Wissick—by the English composer Tobias Hume. Wissick and Smith were most successful in lyrical passages—the gamba is not as lithe an instrument as the cello, so more technical passages are tricky—but that is a feature of the instrument, not a limitation of its players. Both Wissick and Smith bring liveliness to their gamba playing. In their hands, the hundreds-of-years-old repertoire is not a dusty relic, any more than Shakespeare or Milton are. It’s a living, breathing, delightful part of Western music history.

Before the music began, a cocktail hour with a full bar and a fantastic menu prepared by homeowner Michael Mathews delighted guests. Stuffed mushrooms, homemade breads, focaccia, and a cheese plate delighted vegetarians, while meatballs and brisket sliders were available for omnivores. Just before intermission, the aroma of warm cookies wafted through the music room. After the last notes of the first half of the program sounded, the forty or so guests rushed to the kitchen for coffee and those cookies—as well as homemade creampuffs and biscotti.

Although some concertgoers may blanch at the seemingly pricey tickets, that ticket includes an intimate musical experience of the highest caliber, a fine meal, and warm, congenial company (not to mention valet parking). With all that, this concert is a bargain indeed. Thanks For Reading

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Sixes and Sevens
The Dallas Bach Society offers a house concert celebrating the viola da gamba and Renaissance and Baroque music.
by J. Robin Coffelt

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