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Three of J.S. Bach's sons emerged from the figurative shadow of their illustrious father to demonstrate their own musical talents in the first program of the Baroque & Beyond series, presented before an appreciative audience at Chapel of the Cross, adjacent to the University of North Carolina campus. A quintet of baroque music specialists showed that, in many respects, the three boys, C.P.E., J.C.F. and J.C., were quite good composers in their own right.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, who today is perhaps the best known of the musical offspring of Johann Sebastian Bach, blazed new musical trails in many compositions, as shown by the first work on the program, La Capricieuse (Wq 117/33), for solo keyboard. One might characterize this composition as less precise, more expansive, than the style of J.S.B. John O'Brien of Greenville, playing a fortepiano modeled after the instrument Mozart used late in his life, captured a lovely ebb-and-flow of this piece, from the fiery ornamentation phrases to the more subtle passages. The contrasts between louder and softer lines were notable, the embellishments were finely played, and the bold descending figures were well executed. O'Brien's playing seemed so effortless, and the result was quite satisfying.
He was joined by violinist and UNC faculty member Leah Peroutka for C.P.E. Bach's Sonata in C Major (Wq 73, H. 504), and the keyboard trills, not unlike those in the first piece, were augmented here by Peroutka's nimble violin fingering. The lively opening movement (allegro di molto) contrasted sharply with the andante middle movement, and the two instruments blended beautifully in the third movement (allegretto), with especially fine shifts in dynamics. This was not a solo violin piece with the piano providing only background support; this was a true duet pretty much from start to finish, although each instrument also had some nice exposed lines.
Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach was represented before intermission by a trio in D Major for flute, cello, and keyboard, also a piece showing a distinct similarity to the style of the father. After a vigorous unison opening, the composition became more like a piece for flute and pianoforte, with Chris Nunnally's cello providing the steady continuo-like support. Flutist Rebecca Troxler, playing a six-keyed classical flute, had a lovely melody in the adagio di molto second movement, with O'Brien adding a busy arpeggio figuration. The final allegro assai movement included several nicely played solo passages.
The most interesting piece in the concert opened the second part of the program – Mozart's arrangement of Johann Christian Bach's piano sonata in D Major, Op. 5, No. 2. Mozart turned this sonata into his Concerto in D, KV.107, and it was further tweaked by the local players into essentially a piano quintet hybrid, which let Troxler substitute her flute for one of the string lines. The result was quite enjoyable, with O'Brien, Troxler, Peroutka and Nunnally joined by violist Joey O'Donnell* to form the ensemble. This composition seemed to resemble more closely the style of his father's than, say, C.P.E. Bach's pieces on the program. O'Brien played Mozart's cadenzas in the opening allegro movement and andante second movement quite well, while the tempo di menuetto third movement featured a nice keyboard line over plucked strings. The stately second movement was notable for Troxler and Peroutka's lead lines.
Closing the program was C.P.E. Bach's Quartet in A Minor, Wq 93, H. 537, for flute, viola, cello, and keyboard. The opening andantino skipped along nicely, contrasting with the largo e sostenuto second movement, with its slow, soft ending. O'Donnell's viola seemed a shade over pitch in the opening movement, but his duet with Troxler in the second movement was quite lovely, and O'Brien and Nunnally provided a good cushion. The allegro assai final movement had several quite fast passages for keyboard and flute, played energetically by O'Brien and Troxler. In its precision and structure, this piece bore greater similarity to the style of the father than either of the other C.P.E. Bach works on the program.
The concert was enjoyable in several respects – certainly for the quality of playing but also for exposing the audience to music from the period that is not heard every day. The players and presenters earn high marks in both areas.
This series continues with a program of French baroque featuring soprano Molly Quinn on January 25. For details, see our calendar.
*His bio is included among the listing of Baroque & Beyond artists here.