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The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Brings Elegant Bach Performance to Richardson Auditorium

Nancy Plum

With works performed as often as Bach's six Brandenburg Concerti, one wonders what there is new to bring to a performance, or how an ensemble will distinguish itself with a particular interpretation. Some performers distinguish themselves by presenting the works in a different order, on original instruments, or with star soloists. The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which happens to be comprised of star soloists, distinguished itself in its presentation of these concerti on Monday night at Richardson Auditorium by a light refreshing approach to the pieces. The modern instrument ensemble played with 18th century style and balance of sound and line as the players presented the six three-movement works in order from 1 through 6. Monday night's roster of the Chamber Society included some of the most innovative and notable players in classical music, including violinist Joseph Silverstein, flutist Ransom Wilson, the Kavafian sisters on violin and double bassist Edgar Meyer, who has been combining the sound of the bass with such unusual instruments as the banjo. These soloists, as well as the rest of the ensemble, vitalized these concerti with clean, precise, yet at times passionate playing.

The foundation of the ensemble sound was primarily maintained by harpsichordist John Gibbons, joined by Mr. Meyer and cellists Fred Sherry and Sophie Shao. In the "Adagio" movement of Concerto Number 1, the cellos and double basses really dug in, but also sustained the sound under the solo oboe and violin, with an ending to the movement reminiscent of Monteverdi in its emotionalism.

Evident from the beginning of the concerti was the elegant line to phrases with which the players performed. This was clear in the popular Concerto Number 2 in F Major, featuring trumpet player Eric Aubier, flutist Ransom Wilson and violinist Joseph Silverstein. Mr. Aubier provided an unfrenetic trumpet solo and fit well into the texture of a very quick concerto. The third movement was a test of trumpet clarity, and the ensemble played with a clipped, almost detached style to keep this tempo going.

Concerto Number 3 in G Major is unique in that there are no single soloists – the ensemble sections play off of each other. Apparent in this concerto was the individuality within the instrumental sections, especially among the violas, led by Paul Neubauer and Cynthia Phelps. Violinist Ani Kavafian stylistically improvised the two-chord "Adagio" that linked the two "Allegro" sections.

Ida Kafavian joined her sister on violin in the fourth concerto, showing an even and light touch against Ani's more passionate style. This concerto was the roughest of the four, marred by a few glitches and scattered moments, but also marked by exquisite playing by flutists Demarre McGill and Tara Helen O'Connor. Communication between the flutes was clear, and Mr. McGill played the tiny cadenzas with great finesse.

Concerto Number 5 is the concerto for harpsichord, as well as other instruments, but Mr. Gibbons played with such subtlety and flow that one heard the harpsichord as an underlying member of the ensemble, rather than a featured solo instrument. Violinist Cho-Liang Lin played with a great deal of spirit and delicacy, and with his fellow soloists provided a tremendous musical dialogue. The violin was the most exposed instrument in this concerto, and Mr. Lin was able to create great diversity in the dynamics.

Six Brandenburg Concerti in an evening is a lot of Bach. With new soloists continually taking the forefront, the Chamber Music Society was able to maintain variety in the performance and keep the audience guessing about the next combination of sounds. The ensemble consistently played this music with freshness, characterizing the melodic sequences with style, rather than mere repetition. This is a first-class ensemble with first-class players, all of whom are either well established in the performing arena or on the cutting edge of their careers. There can never be too much of anything with this quality of playing.

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