Elizabeth Walfisch puts the fun back in into Baroque Music
Thursday, August 2, 2001
Wallfisch and her fellow Festival fiddlers join such high-profile mischief makers as Giovanni Antonini of Il Giardino Amonico, and virtuoso tone painter Fabio Biondi of Europa Galante, to name only a few. Tonight (Thursday, Aug. 2,) with the irrepressible Wallfisch in charge, you can expose yourself to this cutting edge in a program whimsically titled "Pizza Stravagante."
Having reinvented herself as both Pied Piper and iconoclast of the Bach Festival, Wallfisch now charges into every opportunity to give new life to old music. Her Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 on Saturday night, replaced Corelli-blend with Vivaldi-combat. At her "pizza" program, heard last week, she and her merry band kept at it. Virtuosity and mischief notwithstanding, the biggest surprise of the early 18th-century Italian program was Francesco Durante, an exact contemporary of Bach who was clearly committed to the pre-classical style, not the baroque at all. An avant-gardist in his own right, Durante represented innovations in Naples, as did his countryman Leonardo Leo, who was heard through a concerto for four violins, supported by a spare continuo of two long-necked theorbos and harpsichord. Corelli opened the show as spokesman for the Roman style through one of his concerti grossi, also played with heightened virtuosity. Vivaldi defined the Venetian style with his in-your-face Concerto in B Minor for Four Violins, Summer from The Seasons, and a concerto for Viola d'amore. The latter found its soloist, George Thomson, fighting to keep his instrument in good tune and tone. With Wallfisch again in charge, all the programmatic details of the Summer concerto were vividly etched. During this short but exhilarating program, all the pizzas on this platter dazzled the ear with bold flavors, piquant textures and bracing rhythms.
Some reviewers of the Carmel Bach Festival skated out on thin ice and promptly broke through by comparing the two major oratorios, Mendelssohn's Elijah and Bach's St Matthew Passion. Even though the young Mendelssohn has been given credit for launching the Bach revival with his 1829 production of the St. Matthew, Elijah was composed nearly 20 years later, in essentially a non-polyphonic style, for a London not Leipzig audience. Moreover, it was designed to appeal to the newly redefined Victorian taste for the grand oratorio established notably by Handel and extended by Haydn. (In actual fact, Elijah was premiered at Birmingham.) Under Bruno Weil, Elijah got a first-rate production, energetic and forthright. Most of its choruses were delivered with powerful declamation and dramatic thrust. In the title role, Sanford Sylvan projected a warmly appealing character, at turns forceful, lyrical and intimate, yet lacking the stentorian authority so often demanded by the dramatic narrative. Fortunately, conductor Weil and the room acoustics themselves flattered Sylvan, who certainly emerged as the singing star of this year's festival.
Soloist Kendra Colton rose to new heights in this work, taking her appealing soprano out on a limb of expressive force and dramatic presence, elements she has kept largely under wraps in past festival performances. In this regard, she joined mezzo Catherine Robbin who had already made a similar transition. Impressive results attended both in this appearance, heard last week, arousing a desire to hear more from each. Tenor Jo"rg Hering, whose efforts in this festival have run erratically from a collapse of basic technique to inspired phrasing and tone, came through effectively and consistently in this case. Like the chorus, Weil's orchestra delivered powerful drama and room-filling presence, transparent in its opulent orchestration and punctuated by fine instrumental solos.