Bach-ing Up--Getting psyched for the Carmel Bach Festival.
Thursday, June 17, 1999
High spirits and low comedy mark the boundaries of the 1999 Carmel Bach Festival. If the latter, Pergolesi''s inane La serva padrona sets new low standards for the venerable celebration, J.S. Bach''s Christmas Oratorio will attempt to defend the heights commonly associated with the festival''s namesake.
This may be a tall order since the three-hour Christmas Oratorio (the Sunday matinee) remains an oddity to audiences in this country and because the composer figures in only three of the festival''s other major programs--and, at that, only partially. From July 17 through August 6, the festival will put on its full concert fare three times. Prokofiev''s Haydn-imitating Symphony 1 "Classical" will strike a contrast with two Bach cantatas and an orchestral suite in the opening night (Saturday) lineup. Twelfth-century composer Hildegard von Bingen and a recital by Chanticleer will split the Monday timeslot. Haydn will carry the Tuesday program, with a spot of unfamiliar Mozart. Gabrieli, Lalande, Calvisius, Praetorius and Charpentier will counter Bach on the Wednesday Carmel Mission menu. Likewise, Vivaldi, Corelli, Pergolesi and Wassanaer share the spotlight with Bach in violinist Elizabeth Wallfisch''s virtuoso concertos on Thursday.
While Bach-lovers will lament the degree to which their favorite is made to fraternize with lesser souls, generous compensation can be found during the daylight recitals by festival musicians. Bach comes through during the Monday organ and harpsichord recitals, Wednesday chamber music, Wednesday "Twilight Concerts," the one-time-only Wallfisch solo recital, August 2, and in short bits during other afternoon programs. In fact, Bach wrote for large forces only in his major oratorios and cantatas. Virtually all of his instrumental music can be called chamber music (except for the virtuoso organ works and two or three suites that add winds to the strings) and sounds best in intimate settings.
If historical perspective is the rationale behind music director Bruno Weil''s peculiar progamming spin, Pergolesi remains an odd choice. Dead at 26, the tubercular Italian is remembered for only two works, the aforementioned La serva padrona and a setting for soprano and mezzo-soprano of the Stabat Mater, both programmed for the Friday night concert. In simple terms, the first is credited as the template of Italian opera buffa while the second extends the then-current fascination with the "affect" associated with dissonant harmonic suspensions. (Bach embraced the latter style by transcibing and arranging various Italian works to his own taste, including Pergolesi''s Stabat Mater.)
Silly as it is, however, La serva padrona is a buffa of rare concentration. The piece takes the form of an intermezzo, a one-act intermission entertainment originally written for a now-forgotten "serious" opera. Due to its economy of means and clever turns, La serva padrona happens to be a masterpiece in its own right, hence its periodic revival. Still it is made of the flimsiest fabric; if the two characters, "master" and "maid," falter in their comedic delivery, the buffa will fall flat on its face and its musical merits will rightly evaporate in the scorching glare of--you guessed it--J.S. Bach.
If the production does succeed, however, concert-goers will quickly recognize a precursor to the comedies of Mozart and Rossini, one in which the servant so confuses the master of the house that he winds up betrothed to her. The master''s exalted position is brought low while the chambermaid rises to mistress of the house. Unlike the opera seria of that era, all pretensions are stripped away leaving mere, day-to-day mortals, the very characters who populate today''s TV sitcoms and soap operas.
Having decided to wander this far afield from the exalted mansions of J.S. Bach, it would seem to be only a matter of time before Maestro Weil decides to stage the most savage of parodies on Baroque vanities, John Gay''s The Beggar''s Opera whose fabulous popularity began in London in 1728.
More on the 1999 Bach Festival next week.
Last Week''s Quiz: To what 19th-century conductor is attributed the snipe, "A tenor is not a man but a disease"? Answer: Hans von Blow.
This Week''s Quiz: Name the American composer who declared, "Music that does not surge is not great music."
Oboist John Mack Monday, 8pm. Acclaimed artist/teacher makes 16th annual concert appearance, with pianist Elizabeth DeMio. Hidden Valley Theater, Carmel Valley Road at Ford Road, Carmel Valley. $10. 659-3115.