A four-day festival with resident musicians gives hearers the chance to get a broad picture of the performers and to look into the depth and breadth of their art. In this concert, the resident band's usual suspects – Leslie Conner, Leah Peroutka, Joey O'Donnell, and Christopher Nunnally – were joined by oboist Meg Owens. The festival has been solidly grounded on the strings, and each program has had some sauce to provide good variety. Owens had a major role, playing in all the pieces.
Johann Gottlieb Janitsch (b.1708) was a young contemporary of J. S. Bach, but his music is much more typical of a slightly later era. The festival orchestra played one of his church sonatas, this one for oboe, violin, viola, and continuo. Owens' playing in the beginning largo left no doubt that the audience had a treat ahead. Her playing was pleasingly plaintive, and she displayed a broad dynamic range in her handling of an oboe by Randall Cook. Baroque versions of well-known instruments are typically devoid of the heavy machinery that does a lot of the work in modern instruments. Owens' one-keyed oboe, similar in that respect to O'Brien's one-keyed flute the previous day, puts much more demand on the performer to get the intonation perfect. The dynamic range is controlled completely by the player's breath and lips –and her skill in making her reeds. The allegretto pleased me particularly as Owens exploited her ability to make her oboe quack like musical ducks, the distinctive sound that sets the oboe apart from the flute and violin. The adagio was a chorale prelude (just like something Bach would write for the organ) on "O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden." Janitsch took the typical organ form and made a lovely orchestral movement. Owens struck the perfect balance between disappearing into the ensemble and being brazenly too loud. The vivace was dancing and nimble.
The Cantata S.202 by J. S. Bach, Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten, is circumstantially linked to his romance with and marriage to the professional singer Anna Magdalena; it is likely that Bach composed the "Wedding Cantata" for Anna Magdalena to sing at their own wedding. The lightness of the orchestra in this performance suggested the musicales that frequently took place in the Bach household. The cantata is organized as five arias and four recitatives in alternatim, with the soprano singing throughout. The soprano part was taken by Plymouth, NC, native Jon Shaw, one of (if not the most) talented of the area's singers. The ensemble got off to a rocky start with their intonation but in only a few measures had everything well in tune. The third aria, "Phoebus eilt mit schnellen Pferden," is a remarkable trio sonata for soprano, cello obbligato, and continuo (harpsichord played by O'Brien). There were a couple of difficulties not worth detailing in the face of the tremendous musicality of Nunnally and Shaw, undergirded by O'Brien. The aria "Wenn die Frühlingslüfte streichen" had a false start from which all recovered and went on to make real music. The broad dynamic range of the violin was especially noteworthy. The aria "Sich üben in Lieben" would have made a fine time for the two violins and the viola to slip out for a beer; they had nothing to do but enjoy the music. It is sufficient to note that German is not Shaw's native language.
The contrast between the "Wedding Cantata" and Georg Philipp Telemann's Concerto in A Major for oboe d'amore and strings could not be more extreme. The "Wedding Cantata" is not Bach's greatest work but it is Bach, nevertheless, knobby and Germanic and intellectually demanding even in its simplicity. The Telemann is worldly, polished, sophisticated, urbane. The Bach scholar Christoph Wolff suggests that Bach was aware of his own brilliance and of his own limitations, as well. Wolff suggests that Bach knew he was much better off being a church musician in Leipzig than getting involved with the politics of Hamburg and the opera as Telemann was. Thus the conspicuous contrast between the two compositions. The opening siciliano was the exact bully pulpit for the oboe d'amore, a perfect, simple, sophisticated shepherd's pipe, totally sublime. The largo was a polite back-and-forth between the oboe d'amore, cello, and harpsichord on the one hand and the violins and viola on the other, a little concerto grosso with two concertini and no ripieno. The vivace was both composed and played to bring out fresh, bright jollity in the strings. Owens was a strong addition to a proven strong ensemble.