Concerti Galore: Bach Week Ends on an Up Note at Montreal Music Festival

CanadaCanada Bach: Complete Violin Concerti: Rachel Barton Pine (violin), Elizabeth Wallfisch (ldirector/violinist), Montreal Festival Ensemble, St. George Church, Montreal, 25.5.2013 (SSM)

Bach: Concerto for Violin in A minor, BWV 1041
Concerto for Violin in E major, BWV 1042
Concerto for Three Violins in C major, BWV 1064R
Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor, BWV 1060R
Concerto for Violin in G minor, BWV 1056R
Concerto for Two Violins in D minor, BWV 1043

One should always be cautious when using the word “Complete” to qualify a historical composer’s opus. Inevitably, a new work will be discovered or an old work reconstructed to invalidate the premise of completion. This new work will be added to the next “Complete” edition which will remain complete until it isn’t.

In the concert presented here, six violin concerti were performed, three of which are generally accepted as originally written by Bach for violin(s). The three others are reconstructions of harpsichord concerti, which may themselves have been reconstructions of now-lost violin concerti. The Concerto for 3 Violins, BWV 1064R is a reconstruction of the Concerto for 3 Harpsichords, BWV 1064. The same is true for both the Concerto for Oboe and Violin, BWV 1060R, reconstructed from BWV 1060; and BWV 1056R, reconstructed from BWV 1056.

Aside from stray fragments and the movement BWV 1045 which, although scored for a solo violin, sounds more like a sinfonia that Bach might have written to open a cantata, the only violin concerto not included in this program is the reconstruction (BWV 1052R) of the Concerto for Harpsichord No. 1 in D minor, BWV 1052. There may be reasons why this one was omitted, but ultimately it is a scholarly decision based on whatever evidence is found convincing. Perhaps a better title for this concert might have been a vaguer “Bach Violin Concerti.”

Rachel Barton Pine was soloist in all of the evening’s concerti and gave characteristically sensitive interpretations. Hearing her pure notes effortlessly played in an unhurried, vibrato-less manner, I was reminded of just how bewitching historically informed interpretations can be. The simplest drawing of the bow across the string, free of fidgety wobbling, produces a tone that alone should convince anyone of the validity of these techniques. Even in the most demanding passages, one did not sense anything but complete oneness with her instrument: her violin radiated warmth with every touch of her bow.

The double and triple violin concerti gave the audience a quick lesson in “timbre.” If there was ever a question of what a composer’s reasoning is when he doubles, triples or quadruples the solo instrument, one need only listen carefully to the three lines in the Concerto for 3 Violins. Each instrument had a unique voice: Ms. Pine’s, resonant and tempered; Elizabeth Wallfisch’s, clear, sharp and bright; and Timothy Chooi’s, smooth and mellow.

Only in the performance of the reconstructed Concerto for Oboe and Violin, BWV 1060R was the playing not of the highest quality. Theodore Baskin struggled in the solo part for oboe with a constricted and tight performance that seemed to put a damper on the rest of the players.

The Concerto in D minor for two violins had both master violinists in musical conversation in the first movement, with phrases tossed playfully between the two. The poignant Largo had the opposite effect of turning the two violins into one pure instrument. The final Allegro had both violinists coming together then moving apart, dancing in a joyous summation of this program and of the magical “Bach Week” at the Montreal Chamber Music Festival.

Stan Metzger