Dallas — To celebrate 35 years in existence, the Dallas Bach Society threw a retro party for New Year’s Eve. They duplicated their first concert in their first venue—and it was absolutely marvelous. They played all six of Bach’s Brandenburg concerti and you will never hear them played as well.
As a collection of scores, the Brandenburg concerti have no parallel. They are six instrumental works, all for different configurations. They laid the foundation for today’s orchestras as a group of different instruments, in this case 17, playing a single piece. Bach called them concerts avec plusieurs instruments (concerti for various instruments) and one glance at the list of players at the bottom of this review will show you the reason for the name. But, they are real virtuoso concerti and as such, are challenging for all concerned.
They are based on the existing concerto grosso form of a group of soloists (the concertino) interacting with a larger group of instruments (the ripieno or the concerto grosso). Here, however, Bach upends this Baroque form by not using a larger group as contrast. He divides his 17 instruments into the two groups, but sometimes the ripieno is smaller than the concertino. Thus, every player is a soloist no matter which group they are in at the moment.
The concerti were performed on historically accurate instruments. While the string instruments are similar to today’s descendants, the winds and brass are much more rudimentary.
The brass instruments are notoriously treacherous. The natural horns in the first concerto are hunting horns, just like in all the historical paintings and don’t have valves. Thus, all notes must be formed with the lip alone. The clarion, a natural trumpet that looks like an elongated bugle, also lacks valves and this part, the second concerto, is one of the most difficult ever written for the trumpet of any configuration or era.
So, I am not going to write individual reviews for each concerto or each soloist. They were all amazing and occasionally switched roles. One example is that the first violin and second violin frequently traded places. The sixth concerto eliminates the violins all together and uses three violas, a cello and a violone with keyboard.
Music director James Rickman kept everything together while switching between a harpsichord and a small portable pipe organ. The fifth concerto is more like the more familiar concerto form in that the harpsichord is a soloist and the other instruments provide an accompaniment. Richman gave a virtuoso performance.
Below is the list of the outstanding players who delivered the best New Year’s Eve party I have ever attended.
- Clare Cason, James Andrewes, Marie-Elise McNeeley — Baroque Violin
- Alisa Rata Stutzbach, Stephanie Raby, Tamara Meredith — Baroque Viola
- Christopher Phillpott, David Cason, John Walters — Baroque Cello
- John Walters, Stuart Cheney — Viola da Gamba
- Randy Inman — Violone
- Tamara Meredith — Baroque Flute
- MaryAnn Shore, William Bauer, Sung Lee — Baroque Oboes and Recorders
- Kelsey Schilling — Baroque Bassoon
- James Wilson, Brent Anderson — Natural Horn
- Josh Cohen — Natural Trumpet