The apotheosis of the German Baroque, J.S. Bach continues to dazzle with the malleability of his music; great interpreters breathe fresh air into it, and Eric Jacobsen is known for taking that approach in his many projects. Bach also seems to work best in modern programming, when shared with contemporary composers. That wasn’t the case on Monday night’s Orlando Philharmonic concert at The Plaza Live, but it hardly mattered: there’s no harm in an unadulterated dose of Bach every so often.
Although the Orlando Philharmonic sounded a bit scattered from the balcony of The Plaza Live – acoustics are not exactly pristine – it was easy to adapt and gear one’s attention to the great chamber work happening onstage. This season the OPO has sounded real well when performing in small ensembles, both in chamber music and passages for reduced orchestration, from full-scale works. Conducting sans baton, Jacobsen imparted the joviality he so readily embodies. The musicians performed on their feet, with guest harpsichord player Pedja Muzijevic fixed center stage, sitting at the keyboard. The staging was somewhat reminiscent of classic paintings of family parlors where everyone gathers around the piano.
The performances of all four pieces in the program showed sensible interplay between concertino instruments – they feature two or more instruments as soloists, alternating with accompaniment from the ensemble – and a subdued air of reverence for Bach. The Suite No. 1 in C Major was enlivened by Muzijevic’s shiny trills. The woodwinds have never sounded better: the suite was capped in the Passepied toward the end by an enchanting unaccompanied trio of two oboes (Jamie Strefeler and Kristin Naigus) and bassoon (Diane Bishop). The oboes projected an enthralling tone, with countermelody from the bassoon. Bishop’s tone was emphatic and hefty throughout the suite.
Jacobsen reminded us that for the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G major, Bach calls for two mysterious “flauti d’echo.” Colleen Blagov and Sandra del Cid-Davies used regular flutes, instead of recorders, which are sometimes used. The performance was captivating: the concertino group – it included Rimma Bergeron-Langlois on violin – evoked a fairy tale-like mood, with wonderful trills and mellifluous interplay between flutes and violin. In the slow Andante, the harpsichord sounded as if it was cushioning the trio on top. The whole episode had an air of enchantment.
Slightly less captivating were the Violin Concerto No. 2 in E major, and the Concerto for Harpsichord in D minor, although they are singularly striking works. Jacobsen, who commented that Bach seems especially appropriate for the holiday season – isn’t Bach always evergreen? – controlled dynamics well, bending down his knees a bit to indicate sudden drops in loudness. The performance, in general, wasn’t as lively as it could have been and it seemed to plod at times, although things picked up well with Bergeron-Langlois’ solo lines in the brisk third movement. Muzijevic, a clearly accomplished artist, painted an unrelenting somber picture throughout the harpsichord concerto (the concerto’s ubiquitous minor key permits no light). The instrumental accompaniment wasn’t as tight or attuned to the soloist, though, and was eclipsed by the wonderful woodwind work of the Suite and the Brandenburg Concerto.
The Orlando Philharmonic continues this holiday season with The Nutcracker, in collaboration with Orlando Ballet and John Sinclair, music director of the Bach Festival Society.
The Nutcracker, Dr. Phillips Center
• Thursday, December 17 at 8 p.m.
• Friday, December 18 at 8 p.m.
• Saturday, December 19 at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.
• Sunday, December 20 at 1 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.
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