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.
he announcement of this concert at St. James Place came as a very pleasant surprise. There’s no need to wait until June to hear an Aston Magna Concert! And that is certainly a event much-anticipated among early music lovers and Berkshire residents. Aston Magna regulars, Daniel Stepner, baroque violin, Laura Jeppesen, viola da gamba, Peter Sykes, harpsichord, and Andrea LeBlanc, baroque flute, will play excerpts from a central work by J. S. Bach, A Musical Offering, covering the basic styles of composition contained within it: canons, a fugue (ricercare), and a trio sonata, as well as sonatas—respectively for viola da gamba and violin, flute, and violin—by Buxtehude, Handel, and C. P. E. Bach. The selection from the Offering is especially sympathetic to the other works on the program, with the simpler ricercare (the one Bach was able to improvise on the spot, when Frederick the Great presented him with his theme and the challenge to write a fugue on it) and the Trio Sonata.
Scholars, musicians, and audiences, as they explore the music of the first half of the seventeenth century, keep coming back to the giant figure of Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), just as in later periods they tend to orbit J. S. Bach, Haydn, Beethoven, Wagner, and Stravinsky. In one respect this is justified by the quality and originality of Monteverdi’s music. In others we must acknowledge our fragmentary and disproportionate understanding of the music of all times and places, realizing that we should really know more of the music of Matthiesen, Graupner, and Hasse, C. P. E. Bach, Cherubini, and Scriabin, to name only a few. In the present case, Erin Headley justifiably points out that much of the work of two of the other important composers in this program, Luigi Rossi and Marco Marazzoli, has been hidden away in the Vatican Library—in manuscript, not in printed editions, the form in which Monteverdi purposely circulated and preserved his work.
When I try to imagine how Lee Elman and Albert Fuller felt when they founded the Aston Magna Music Festival in 1972, I find myself somewhat awestruck. That was less than twenty years away from the very beginnings of the Early Music movement in the mid-1950s. When the invaluable Pristine Classical download site form historical recordings recently released Jascha Horenstein’s 1954 recording of Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos, a noted by Mischa Horenstein observed that the orchestra, assembled ad hoc in Vienna by Horenstein himself, included two great lights of historical performance, Nicolaus Harnoncourt, playing the viola da gamba, and Paul Angerer, playing viola solo, violino piccolo, harpsichord, and second recorder, in true Early Music style.
Just yesterday I had the pleasure of talking with Jeannette Sorrell, Music Director of Apollo’s Fire, the highly acclaimed period orchestra based in Cleveland, where she founded it twenty-three years ago. Today, rather like the venerable Cleveland Orchestra, Apollo’s Fire tours extensively in North America and Europe, bringing Ms. Sorrell’s warm, expressive vision of Baroque playing to both seasoned and neophyte audiences. Tomorrow, July 2, she will lead them at Tanglewood in a program called “Bach’s Coffee House,” referring to the Café Zimmermann in Leipzig, where first Georg Phillipp Telemann and later Johann Sebastian Bach organised free public concerts. The program will include excerpts from Telemann’s incidental music to Don Quixote, Bach’s Fourth and Fifth Brandenburgs, and short pieces by Handel and Vivaldi.