Recital Review



Cellist Christopher Hutton's Reflecting BACH Tour Concert


Event  Information

March 21, 2017 - Chapel Hill, NC:


A small audience of mostly cello students and cello fanciers in Person Hall heard a fascinating program, "Reflecting Bach," performed by Christopher Hutton. He is Associate Professor at Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina and is cellist in the Poinsett Piano Trio. He is touring nationally and in his native New Zealand with three programs under this rubric. One is a complete performance of all six Bach cello suites, a shorter one of just four suites, and this intriguing juxtaposition of a sampler of single movements from each suite with solo cello works by composers influenced by Bach's example. The key of G minor ran through most of the pieces as a unifying theme.

Hutton's "Bach Suite Sampler" consisted of the famous Prelude from the G Suite (S. 1007), Allemande from the D minor Suite (S. 1008), Courante from the C Suite (S. 1009), Sarabande from the C minor Suite (S. 1011), Bourée I and Bourée II from the E-flat Suite (S. 1010), and the Gigue from the D Suite (S. 1012). This served as a different vantage point for considering these Baroque dance forms.

Hutton performed these movements from memory, and he produced a full, rich sound from his John Betts, c.1795 cello. Intonation and articulation were excellent as was his control of rhythms. All of the selections, except the Sarabande, were played without hesitation. A momentary problem in this slow movement led Hutton to start over to deliver a polished performance.

Benjamin Britten (1913-76) was more inspired by the Romantic Bach playing of cellist Mstislav Rostropovich than the Baroque suite model. Three suites were composed. Britten created a texture based on one Bach adapted from French seventeenth-century lute and keyboard composers. According to Philip Brett in his note for Rostropovich's Decca recording, "a texture in which the impression of counterpoint is gained by continuing two or three melodic ideas at different pitch levels, 'breaking' from one to another before its aural impression has faded from the listener's ear." Suite No. 1 for Cello. Op. 72 (1965) consists of six Baroque-like named movements introduced and interspersed at two movement intervals by a varying long melodic Canto.

Britten's First Suite is a virtual encyclopedia of modern cello technique and is fullest appreciated in live performance. Hutton's performance was entrancing whether a wide range of harmonics was being explored in IV. Marcia or both right and left hand pizzicatos in III. Serenata. In V. Bordone, Hutton conjured scurrying musical phrases above a constant droning bass. With only bow, hands, and cello, Hutton managed to suggest a "battle of the bands" between a stormy perpetual motion and a version of the song-like Canto.

Although Max Reger (1873-1916) only began composing for the solo cello in 1914, his approach eschews a contemporary approach in favor of the nineteenth century's rich Romanticism. His Suite No. 1 in G, Op. 131c is in three movements: Prelude: Vivace, Adagio, and Fugue: Allegro. His music is dense and heavily chromatic. Reger once said "Musically I cannot but think polyphonically," and this suite is a fine example.

Hutton's performance was excellent with the similarity of the Adagio to the flowing Sarabande of Bach's Fifth Cello Suite nicely spun out. Fugal elements stood out with wonderful clarity in the final movement.

All three remaining composers were born in the same year – 1938. As he had done before playing the Reger, Hutton introduced each work with comments and excerpts relating them to the "g" theme or Bach dance movements.

William Bolcom has been active as a performer, and his works, such as his Clarinet Concerto, have been recently performed in our area. Hutton omitted two lyrical movements and chose three movements, I. Prelude, III. Bandinerie, and V. Alla Sarabanda from Suite in C minor (1996). The latter is a recomposing of the Sarabande from Bach's Fifth Suite followed by five increasingly demanding variations followed by a reprise of the theme.

Hutton's strong rhythmic bowing brought out the obsessive quality of the opening march while the whimsy of the second movement was suggested by plucked strings and playful parries. He brought a seamless mastery to the gentle finale.

John Harbison composed his four-movement Suite for Cello (1993) shortly after completing his Cello Concerto. The movements are Prelude, Fuga-Burletta, Sarabande, and Giga. Hutton brought out the rhapsodic quality of the prelude while interweaving voices and multiple stops in the second movement. Acidic harmonies spiced the Sarabande while the Gigue's perpetual motion was perfectly suggested.

Bach's theme from the Goldberg Variations rather than the cello suites inspired Fancy on a Bach Air (1996) by John Corigliano. A Robert Goldberg had commissioned a number of composers to write a series of variations to celebrate the 25th anniversary of his wedding to his wife Judy. Goldberg died from cancer before the commission could be completed. The work became a memoriam. Hutton spun out the long, following lines beautifully.