By Harlan Glotzer
The most widely known early music ensemble in Seattle would probably have to be Seattle Baroque Orchestra, but the true scene of early music in this city are gems like Gallery Concerts. This afternoon’s performance—the Bach Family Birthday Bash—was the second in a two part Bach’s Birthday Festival. The outstanding display of works by Johann Sebastian Bach and three of his four musical sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel, Johann Christoph Friedrich, and Johann Christian on period instruments in appropriate performances practices held me enraptured from the preconcert lecture to the final movement.
This concert closed out the 21st season of Gallery Concerts, and I was ecstatic to see the pews of Queen Anne Christian Church (the regular performance space for Gallery Concert) completely filled. In addition to presenting a personal, friendly, and intimate concert going experience, Founding Director Jillon Stoppels Dupree and Artistic Director George Bozarth make Gallery Concerts a truly unique and important concert series by including repertoire and performance practices of the 19th century—something I have yet to see at any other early music society in this city. Even though this was a concert of Bach, which usually conjures the image of the “High Baroque,” they presented works that spanned the Baroque, Galant, and Early Classical idioms while simultaneously shedding light on the scope of music created in the Bach family’s nearly 300 year prominence in Germanic Central Europe.
Programming and selection of pieces through the afternoon was second to none. The overarching flow was anchored by nearly evenly spaced pieces by JS while simultaneously progressing in historical chronology of the sons, and in so doing, stylistic development.
The music began with JS Bach’s G Major Trio Sonata (BWV 525). I was immediately transported to an earlier time, and my sonic perceptions were appropriately adjusted by the music. The intangible sweetness of Courtney Westcott’s copy of a 1750 Carlo Palanca baroque flute by Peter Noy in 2008 was palpable while Ingrid Matthews on an extant 1703 Hendrik Jacobs baroque violin intertwined magically with Westcott. Filling out the harmonic texture and the complete unified whole of this expert ensemble were Margriet Tindemans on a copy of an 18th century Barak Norman viola da gamba by Ray Nurse in 1994 and Jillon Stoppels Dupree on a version of the 1624 “Colmar” harpsichord by Johannes Ruckers built by Kevin Fryer in 2002.
Next on the program was one of my favorite gamba sonatas—CPE Bach C Major Sonata for viola da gamba & basso continuo (W. 136). Expertly rendered by Tindemans, this sonata pushes the limits of expression and exploits the reedy quality of the extreme upper range of the viol. The wonderful aural color combinations produced betwixt viola da gamba and harpsichord were clearly not lost on Tindemans and Dupree. They tactfully filled the hall with these beautiful sonorities.
Johann Christoph Friedrich closed out the first half of the concert with the most stimulating piece of the whole afternoon. The Sonata in C for flute, violin, and obbligato harpsichord transported me once again to a later historical idiom. Showing the true form of Gallery Concerts, the performers had no difficulty embodying the nuances of the different aesthetic found in the mid/late 18th century when this piece was written. The first movement was full and enchanting while the second movement took on a thicker, more dissonant, and almost romantic interplay of violin and flute which I certainly did not expect on a concert from the Bach family. Bringing us to intermission the 3rd movement exploded with a fiery harpsichord display and a light air.
The second half of the concert flanked Johann Christian’s solo harpsichord sonata (Opus V, no.2) with JS Bach’s G Major violin sonata (BWV 1021) and Trio Sonata no. 8 from the Musical Offering. Matthews’ violin was richest during her solo sonata, and Dupree showed what true Galant sound can be on a harpsichord. The Musical Offering was the perfect choice to close the concert. It felt like a musical sorbet, cleansing the palate of the audience before returning to the outside world. A truly mesmerizing and enveloping display.
This afternoon Gallery Concerts put on a spectacle to behold. No two pieces were anything alike, and yet there was an undeniable through line connecting the whole experience. Though this was the last concert for there season this year, their next year is planned and it looks to be fantastic. Zephyrus performing an evening of the French Baroque, the Opus 20 String Quartet returns for another dazzling performance, A Classical Christmas concert (something you won’t find anywhere else), and more. More information on next year’s concert series can be found at http://www.galleryconcerts.org/