The Bach Festival, which this year offers a dozen concerts until December 3, began Friday evening at the Maison Symphonique with four rarely performed works by the two sons of the Leipzig cantor. With Reinhard Goebel at the helm of the Festival Orchestra, we couldn’t have dreamed of a better guide to guide us through these lesser-known pages.
At the beginning of the evening, the director and founder of the organization, Alexandra Scheibler, cleverly recalled the German chef’s long association with the festival, which launched its first edition in 2005.
His presence in Montreal is welcome after the disappointment following the cancellation of a pre-opening concert that was to have featured another great Bach expert, John Eliot Gardiner, who suspended his activities following an argument with a singer.
It’s true that the solo concert by German pianist Shahzak Nosratty drew less of a crowd than the last two editions, which opened with the best of Johann Sebastian Bach.
The audience — perhaps half of the Maison Symphonique — included some familiar faces that broke into applause after the program’s 13 symphony or concert movements.
The first of two works by Johann Christian Bach called for differing judgments. The most famous of Johann Sebastian’s sons, along with Karl Philipp Emanuel, Johann Christian, who maintained a warm relationship with the young Mozart, was distinguished by his cosmopolitanism (he spent long periods in Milan and London) and his daring style.
But inspiration is not always at its peak. Didn’t he himself say with some kind of humor that Carl Philip lived to make music for a living?
The first partition, the Symphony in G minor, on 6 noh 6, his most distinctive orchestral work, nevertheless sets the table well in general Storm and stress (Pre-Romantic Movement of the 1770s). We’re surprised to see slow motion in small, while large mode is usually the rule.
Rushing onto the stage in bow tie and red socks, the lively Reinhard Goebbel barely had time to arrive at the lecture before giving the starting signal to the twenty or so musicians. Everything is expertly highlighted with commendable attention to detail.
The Piano Concerto in E Flat Despite the pianist’s involvement with his great Steinway, with its monotonous formulas, what follows is far less satisfying. The only originality worth noting: some pizzicato passages in the orchestra.
The elder’s turn
But returning from hiatus will fortunately take us elsewhere. Three years older than Johann Christine, Johann Christoph Friedrich worked for over 40 years at the court of Bückeburg, a small town in Lower Saxony.
This did not prevent him from composing impersonal works. We observe it from Concerto in E flat major for piano, two oboes, two horns, bassoon and strings.
The use of the term “concerto grosso” was by that time (that was 1792) largely obsolete. The first theme of the opening movement is well drawn and the central movement, in a minor scale, creates a wonderful theme in Sicilian rhythm, with evocative transitions between major and minor modes. Nozrati was impeccable in maintaining constant contact with the orchestra despite the phone ringing in the hall towards the end of the concert.
The last work of the project, The Symphony in B flat major (1794), is not unattractive with its piccolo part, its brief double bass solo, and its tasteful modulation. Announcing only three of the four movements, the program at the end wrongly applauds us in front of a delicious rondo full of comedy with its projections of air.
The concert resumes this Saturday evening at the Palais Montcalm in Quebec and Sunday at the Carleton Dominion-Chalmers Center in Ottawa.
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