It is perhaps best to begin this review with a word of practical advice. This concert was sold out. The hall at Camphill Ghent is rather small. Seating is general. So for future events, you would do well to buy your tickets early and to arrive early. But that should be no hardship. It will give you all the more opportunity to meet members of the Camphill Ghent community and others who live in the area, and that can only add to the pleasure of the concert. As far as seating goes, all the instruments in this program, with their wide but compatible range of color and dynamics came through with clarity, warmth, and strength, and I got the impression that that obtains in every part of this intimate space.
A relatively new chamber music series in our area, The Concerts at Camphill Ghent, extending through the rather sparse autumn through spring months, has just recently come to my attention, and it looks well worth a season subscription. Every concert is compelling, and they all fit together as a whole. Clearly some strong consideration has gone into the selection of both the music and the musicians. The series was founded and is managed by a musician, the outstanding pianist, Gili Melamed-Lev, who oversees the programming and participates extensively herself. This is by no means exceptional in itself, but the particular stamp she has put on it stands out.
Sincerity shown brightly in the Berkshire Theatre Group’s A Christmas Carol this year. The show fit beautifully into the Colonial Theatre. It looked stunning. There was no excessive amplification—a thousand thank-you’s for that! Even after several iterations, all cast members from the smallest chirping child to master actor Eric Hill as Scrooge, came right at us with intensity and sweetness. The show is so well-constructed that it completes the novella, makes it richer. Actors of all ages found ways to advance the performances of their peers. This was one of the best productions I have seen this year, because it really did the impossible—it combined scenic opulence with direct, honest playing.
Kevin McGuire’s Scrooge in Capital Repertory Theatre’s production of Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” had more than a touch of Falstaff in it. His villainy was vivacious, startlingly so—almost playful. Its benefits became clear late in the show when his transformation seemed inevitable. Always energetic, Mr. McGuire roamed the stage and let us know on several occasions that he was an actor, his story larger than life. I found his penitence to be strangely convincing, as if it were the real thing, not the penny-pinching. One gained additional sympathy watching the most moving performance of the evening, that of the boy Scrooge, played by a beautifully crafted puppet (tenderly manipulated by actor Kevin Kelly). Here we saw an implacable wooden face, the abrupt but always moving gestures of the puppet drawing pity from us for the boy Scrooge.
It was excellent to read Kenneth Cooper’s words recently on how he loved the sound of Bach with great players playing great instruments in a large hall. So do I, and this is what we got and have gotten for years now on New Year’s Day in the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall in the annual performances by the Berkshire Bach Ensemble. We seem to have arrived at a place between the modern instrument folks (usually using old instruments altered to achieve a stronger sound) and the early music crowd (which tries to emulate the sounds of the 18th century orchestra). Each has its own political correctness, and each works.
Something is happening with increasing frequency in Baroque performance practice these days. A kind of third way has emerged. It would be wrong to call it a half-way house; it’s something more like a suite of rooms each with its own individual slant. The poles are a die-hard kind of historical accuracy, rigid in its orthodoxy, and now pretty much a retro activity, or large opulent orchestras playing Baroque music, if they play it at all, with a 19th-century approach. What seems to be nascent these days is a kind of third way: modern orchestras, even large ones, performing with a much greater sense of tonal and rhetorical knowledge of 18th century style. Nikolaus Harnoncourt started this when he recorded the Beethoven symphonies with a modern orchestra, the Chamber Orchestra of Europe, but used brass instruments which were tricked out in the 18th century way. It has continued, nay flourished, in the 21st century, especially in the symphonies of Beethoven again, where its main defenders have been Osmo Vänskä with the Minnesota Orchestra and Paavo Järvi with the Chamber Orchestra of Bremen. These are players using the modern style but with a believable, not-manufactured Baroque sound. Most recently Riccardo Chailly and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra have released a full set of Beethoven symphonies where something of this third way may be heard. These forces have also recorded the Bach Passions and the Brandenburg concertos with modern instruments, but sounding stylistically informed.
Mr. Cooper, who is best known for his zesty performances of Bach’s chamber music, is also a musicologist of no mean accomplishment. Besides preparing scholarly editions of harpsichord music, he has been, as of late, in the reconstruction business: finishing or recreating works by masters from mere fragments. Last year he reconstructed the violin part to Mozart’s Adagio Quasi FantasiaK.396/385f from an extant five measures in Mozart’s hand. He has also reconstructed the original cadenza for Beethoven’s B-flat piano concerto. Tonight, we heard a United States première of Mr. Cooper’s extensive reconstruction of a wedding cantata by J.S. Bach, listed in the Schmieder’s catalogue as #216.
A few days later a chance to revel in Strauss’s incidental music for Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme, conducted by the youngster of the conducting fellows, Alexander Prior. This young man made the music come out. The performance was full of character, each movement very well sung by the instruments. One could hear the words they were saying. His conducting was impetuous, but he also found space in the tender music that I would not have expected from one so young. Sarah Silver was absolutely splendid in the solo violin as was Caleb van der Swaagh playing the cello solo. I had always thought of this piece as “fluff”, but this time it moved me. And did they ever play for him.