The Aston Magna concert of July 27 in Saint James Place in Great Barrington featuring music of Johann Pachelbel, Johann Sebastian Bach, Antonio Vivaldi, and Heitor Villa Lobos was a feast of beauty. The variety of works by these composers gave the ensemble and featured soloists opportunities to display their virtuosity and their admirable expressiveness. Aldo Abreu delighted the audience with brilliant skill in Vivaldi’s Concert for Sopranino Recorder in A minor. He and Christopher Krueger, also on recorder, were then featured in a performance of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 in G Major, along with violinist Edson Scheid who commanded his solo part with tremendous skill and playfulness. The program was introduced with a performance of the familiar Canon in D Major by Johann Pachelbel, but on this occasion made fresh by the inclusion of its paired Gigue. With the Pachelbel and Vivaldi as intro, one heard how the music of Bach assumes the beauty of Pachelbel and the brilliant virtuosity of Vivaldi.
Bach’s Capriccio on the Departure of a Beloved Brother, BWV 992, one of Bach’s few programmatic works, was performed by harpsichordist Peter Sykes, giving a contrast in sonority to the other ensemble works, and demonstrating some story-telling in the succeeding movements that depicted a brother’s leave-taking from friends and and relatives.
Soprano Kristen Watson, replacing Dominique Labelle, was featured in two contrasting works in the second half of the program. Bach’s secular cantata, “Non sa che sia dolore”, gave us an opportunity to hear one of his very few settings of Italian texts. Ms. Watson was beautifully poised, and she conveyed the farewell ode with lyrical tenderness. In a completely different vein, the Villa Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 gave us a performance which seemed both old and new. Ms. Watson was wonderfully adept at humming the high melodic line. Though originally composed for soprano and eight cellos, Daniel Stepner’s arrangement for the assembled instrumentalists beautifully rendered the delicate textures and sonorities of this popular work.
The wonderful venue of Saint James Place was nearly full, and this excellent organization supplied us with a look backward and a sound always moving ahead. Dan Stepner’s pre-concert talk exuded his joy about the program and the players’ delight in rehearsing and preparing their performance. I look forward to next year’s Aston Magna season with great anticipation.