Dallas — The Dallas Bach Society and Artistic Director James Richman have made a tradition of New Year’s Eve concerts, held early enough for audiences to hit a party afterward or get home before the streets are filled with inebriated drivers. The concerts are festive, featuring champagne and snacks at intermission.
The real draw, of course, is the music. This year, it was Vivaldi’s Four Seasons violin concertos, performed by the Dallas Bach Society strings with soloist Clare Adkins Cason on baroque violin. Richman conducted from the harpsichord. These concerti are familiar to even the most casual of classical music listeners. In hands as capable as Cason’s, though, these concerti never wear out their welcome.
The strings of Dallas Bach Society have improved markedly in the past season or two, with intonation and phrasing becoming ever more precise and well-thought-out. Thus, it was an especial joy to hear Cason, the concertmaster of Dallas Bach Society, featured in these four concerti.
Vivaldi’s Four Seasons may be the earliest example of program music, intended to depict aspects of each season. Each of the four concerti not only corresponds to a season, but is accompanied by a sonnet that delineates what each movement is supposed to represent. In the first movement of La Primavera (Spring), for example, we hear birds and thunderstorms, while in the final movement of L’inverno (Winter), the music is to remind us of someone slipping and falling on winter ice.
Cason ably evoked each of these moods with care. Her clean, precise technique, on a baroque violin without benefit of shoulder rest or chin rest, is more than ample for these concerti. Most importantly, though, her fidelity to authentic Baroque performance practice, including thoughtful ornamentation and minimal, carefully placed vibrato, allowed us to hear these pieces with new ears. I would listen to this interpretation over a flashier, modern-instrument version any day.
Post-intermission, the ensemble moved from the secular to the sacred, adding chorus, vocal soloists and winds for J.S. Bach’s cantata Ein Feste Burg Ist Unser Gott, BWV 80. Although Bach’s son Wilhelm Friedemann Bach added trumpets and tympani to this cantata, DBS chose to perform it in its original version, sans brass and percussion, which increased authenticity but no doubt decreased flashiness. Still, the beauty of much of the instrumental and choral performance made up for any lack of spectacle.
Soprano Anna Fredericka Popova and countertenor Nicholas Garza were standout vocal soloists. They overshadowed tenor Tucker Bilodeau and bass Andrew Dittman, who sometimes lacked the projection and power necessary for the acoustics of the Church of the Incarnation. Notable instrumental performances included Mariana Riva’s skillful turn on the seldom-heard oboe da caccia. This was a delightful concert and fine way to end 2016.