Holland is known as an incubator of the movement to restore the use of historically authentic instruments in the performance of early music, particularly in its most recent phase of the past half-century. While this owes much to the personalities and examples of such notable figures as Gustav Leonhardt, Frans Brüggen, and the (Belgian) Kuijken brothers, there are two other compelling factors: a knowledgeable and receptive public, and the presence of a treasured collection of historically important baroque-period organs housed in magnificent acoustical settings.
For the past few years the Cantata Singers have organized their seasons around a single composer, for example Kurt Weill and Benjamin Britten. This focus and the deep musical knowledge of David Hoose and his colleagues have resulted in marvels of “curated” programming, as some have called it. This season the principal composer, Heinrich Schütz, points the way to the Cantata Singers’ original focus, Johann Sebastian Bach and lays out in rich array of Schütz’s context and legacy throughout western music, from his great contemporary, Claudio Monteverdi, to Boston’s own John Harbison. As in previous years, the programs for all four concerts are contained in one elegant book, which amounts to a convenient introduction to the principle composer, his cultural milieu, and his influence. The premise is basically forward-looking, and the programs are planned to bring out threads which lead up to our present musical environment: hence it is entirely appropriate that historical performance practice is not on the Cantata Singers’ agenda. Chorus and soloists sing with vibrato, and not a single gut string or original instrument is in evidence.
The superb pianist Simone Dinnerstein offered her highly personal view of Bach in a comprehensive manner on Saturday night at Bard College at Simon’s Rock in a program sponsored by the Berkshire Bach Society. (Full disclosure: this writer is a member of the board of the society.) Playing a modern Hamburg Steinway concert grand, Ms Dinnerstein displayed complete and consistent command over all aspects of piano performance, making liberal use of the coloristic possibilities of touch and pedals, and employing a dramatically wide dynamic range. The presentation included regular displays of keyboard virtuosity that clearly took the collective breath away from the adoring audience. The evening was an overt triumph for all concerned, and the Bach Society demonstrated Bach’s adaptability to modern instruments and contemporary musical circumstances.
This year, the fiftieth anniversary of Wanda Landowska’s death, and the one hundred thirtieth anniversary of her birth, while celebrated with some new recordings of her uniquely affecting keyboard playing, has passed by the attention of most music lovers. In Lakeville, Connecticut, though, where Landowska spent the last years of her life, 1949 and 1950, harpsichordist/organist/choral director Christine Gevert has insured that her musical legacy should receive ample notice. From May through October, Gevert’s Crescendo Ensemble has offered concerts, film, and lectures celebrating Landowska’s achievements. As part of this commemorative festival comes this remarkable celebration of the harpsichord, in singular and in plural. It is largely Landowska’s due that the harpsichord was revivified in the twentieth century for early music performance; as well, its reappearance, and Landowska’s championing recitals, offered modern composers inspiration for a wave of newly composed works for this ancient instrument.