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Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center Brings Refreshing Performance of Bach to Richardson

Nancy Plum

Hearing Bach's Brandenburg Concertos played well is like sampling a plate of really good sweets. Among the six concerti, with soloists ranging from violin to flute to harpsichord, one can hear delicacies of intricate phrasing, sparkling virtuoso playing, and a perfectly blended ensemble. This was certainly the case on Monday night when the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center brought its annual holiday treat to Richardson Auditorium: a radiant performance of Bach's six multi-movement concerti. The twenty members of the Chamber Music Society brought innovation and freshness to their performance, totally engaging the nearly full house audience.

The Chamber Music Society presented these works in their numerical order, enabling the audience to hear the subtle differences in the pieces, which were not necessarily intended to be performed in a single evening. The thirteen soloists in Concerto Number1 in F Major accentuated the "hunting" characteristics of the concerto, with hornists William Purvis and Stewart Rose playing especially cleanly. In the final trio combination, the three unison oboes were particularly effective, playing almost as one instrument.

Clarinetist David Shifrin took a unique approach to Concerto Number 2 in F by substituting a clarinet for the usual trumpet solo. In the space and acoustic of Richardson Auditorium, this was a good decision, because the clarinet sound was more homogenous with the other instruments than the more piercing sound of the trumpet. Despite the temptation of a clarinet to sound a bit Klezmer-ish in that high register, Mr. Shifrin's tone color blended well with the flute, oboe, and violin solos, played by Ransom Wilson, Stephen Taylor, and Ani Kafavian, respectively, especially in the quick tempo of the first movement. The pianissimo playing of the third movement particularly illuminated the individual parts.

The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center includes some of the leading instrumental soloists in the world of music, including violinist Joseph Silverstein and double bassist Edgar Meyer. Violinists Ani and Ida Kafavian added both virtuoso playing and personality to the ensemble. In Concerto Number 4 in G Major, flutists Tara Helen O'Connor and Ransom Wilson, together with Ida Kafavian, provided delicately played solo lines. Ms. Kafavian, shadowed by Ani Kafavian in the ensemble, played with particular ferocity in the virtuostic third movement.

Constant throughout the concert was the steady and unobtrusive continuo playing of harpsichordist John Gibbons, joined by varying combinations of cello and double bass. Mr. Gibbons had his chance to solo in Concerto Number 5 in D Major, a concerto scored for flute, violin, and harpsichord solos with the lower strings, creating a large space in the sonority. Mr. Gibbons played on an instrument with clarity and that had a rich sound, punctuating the music with precision. Also notable in this concerto was Mr. Silverstein's violin playing in the second movement trio, scored for just the soloists. Throughout the concerto, the ensemble, which included the fewest players of the evening, exhibited mesmerizing dynamics shadings.

Although the Chamber Music Society is comprised of soloists, their personalities are evident in their ensemble playing. The two violists, Paul Neubauer and Richard O'Neill, seemed to be playing to each other in Concerto Number 6, each had their own individual styles that came through the music well.

By the end of the evening, one realizes that this has been a lot of Bach. However, it was by no means mundane (as an entire evening of one composer might be), and the Chamber Music Society succeeded in finding individuality within the concerti and within the instrumentation required for each piece. If this is truly an annual event, it is a good choice, for there is no better way to spend a winter evening than listening to Bach.


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