Flower Mound — Dallas Bach Society’s house concerts are invariably a delectable treat for both the ears and the palate. Friday night’s concert followed a now well-established pattern for those of us lucky enough to attend these performances: cocktails and delicious food (this time barbecue, plus a variety of delectable sides), followed by music, followed by dessert (cheesecake and espresso), followed by more music, then guests trot outside to retrieve their valet-parked cars. What could be better?
On this evening, only a couple of things. Eric Smith, one of the area’s preeminent Baroque musicians, was the featured musician. He explained for listeners the differences among Baroque, Classical, and Modern string bows in a way that was both informative and concise, showing examples of each. He then performed Bach’s third Cello Suite using the Baroque bow, and overall it was a fine effort. A lack of conviction in the Prelude was quickly replaced by a musical performance in the other movements, never merely workmanlike, but thoughtfully executed and ornamented.
The second half of the program included two later works, one a movement from a cello sonata by J.S. Bach’s son Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach and one the G Minor Sonata for Fortepiano and Cello by Beethoven. Unlike their father, Bach’s sons composed in the Classical mode that was popular by the time they began their careers. The Larghetto Smith and Richman performed allowed listeners’ ears to grow accustomed to the sound of the fortepiano, a transitional instrument between the Baroque harpsichord and the pianoforte, our modern instrument, that was developed in the early nineteenth century. To listeners unaccustomed to the sound, which is most of us, the fortepiano’s sound is jangly and comparatively small. However, this is the instrument for which most Classical-era music was written. Hearing music of this era played on historically accurate instruments is revelatory.
The only substantive issue of the evening was that keyboardist James Richman sounded under-rehearsed on the Beethoven G Minor Sonata, and there were sometimes ensemble issues. The order of instruments in the title of this sonata is no accident: the keyboard, in this case the fortepiano, has a more significant role, and a more difficult part, than the cello. Smith sounded well-rehearsed and confident, for the most part, providing an interesting interpretation of the sonata. Since he, like Richman, primarily performs Baroque repertoire, their version of the sonata tended to be less aggressive than some performances on contemporary instruments—their sforzandos were milder than in many performances of Beethoven, and yet the dynamic range was consistently appropriate.
While there are plenty of recordings and performances of the Bach cello suites on original as well as modern instruments, performances of Classical repertoire on historically accurate instruments remain less common. Kudos to Dallas Bach Society for providing listeners not only with the Baroque repertoire that their name implies but also with a new way of hearing Classical-era music, performed on instruments with which Beethoven himself would have been familiar.