Saturday, November 19, 2011

Cleveland Orchestra: Ton Koopman Conducts Bach

Bach: Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 in F major BVW 1046
Bach: "Wedding" Cantata, BVW 202 (Treresa Wakim, soprano)
Bach: Sinfonia in B minor, from Cantata BVW 209
Bach: Sinfonia in D minor, from Cantata BVW 42
Bach: Suite No. 3 in D major, BVW 1068
Ton Koopman, conductor.

The crowd at tonight's Cleveland Orchestra concert seemed odd -- and the first concert in recent memory where I didn't see any other audience members I recognized. Following performances last season (earlier this calendar year), baroque conductor Ton Koopman lead tonight's collection of five Bach pieces.

While Mr. Koopman was as effervescent as always, tonight's program wasn't as inspiring or as captivating -- I suspect that this reaction was partially due to programming: I'm realizing that single-composer concert-length programs don't hold my attention.

The program opened with the Brandenburg Concerto No. 1 after Mr. Koopman's animated entrance (and it wasn't until this movement that the reason the stage looked odd was because Mr. Koopman was conducting from a bare stage, not standing on a podium as seems to be the custom). The first movement -- scored without a tempo indication -- was bright and sweet and well paced. The second movement, stood in sharp contrast with a dulled restrained sadness that seemed especially slow. We returned to a fast lively mood -- almost as if the mourning has ended -- in the third movement allegro. The fourth movement is a series of seven tempo notations, where as played each section was distinct. Perhaps most impressively were the standout performances by the winds during the two Trio sections, and William Preucil's solo violin contributions.

The so-called "Wedding" Cantata held the most interest for me going in -- and it started with a soaring orchestra and haunting note from Ms. Wakim, but overall the piece did not meet expectations. Musically  it was interesting in that Mr. Koopman was playing the harpsichord and that for what seemed like the majority of the piece there were never more than two instruments being played. But Ms. Wakim's voice felt out of place -- and judging by conversations overheard from adjacent boxes that feeling was relatively widely held.

Following intermission we were treated to two works that while nearly 300 years old the Cleveland Orchestra had never presented before this weekend. While the Sinfonia in D minor left no impression whatsoever (see what I was saying about my attention wandering with single-composer programs?) the Sinfonia in B minor struck me as the beautiful solo flute unabashedly flirting with the strings.

The final work on the program, and tied for favorite with the Brandenburg Concerto, was Suite No. 3. A series of six movements, each with a very distinct musical sound and personality was a delight to listen to. The second of those movements, Air, perhaps one of Bach's best known compositions (same conductor, different orchestra on YouTube here) was so lovingly played by our orchestra that it was very difficult to resist the urge to applaud between movements.


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