A Journey Through Madison's Classical Music Scene
Jul 1, 2012
11:06 AM
Classically Speaking

Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society Gives — and Gets — Royal Treatment

Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society Gives — and Gets — Royal Treatment

The penultimate concert of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society’s “Mixology” season was dubbed “Kir Royale” — and immediately upon setting foot into the Stoughton Opera House Friday night, it was apparent that the royal treatment worked both ways: It was impossible to miss the cameras of Wisconsin Public Television, ready to record the event as part of a new summer series starting July 2 (the BDDS concert is slated to air on July 23).

On paper the program was arranged chronologically, and while typical of many concerts, this one had an even greater connection to the night’s underlying theme. The “Concert royale” of Francois Couperin allowed us to enter the palace of Louis XIV, c.1714, followed by an arrangement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 85 — apparently a favorite of Marie Antoinette.

But what awaited us on the second half was the great Quintet for Strings of Schubert; arguably the greatest, most profound and surpassingly beautiful chamber work ever conceived. While lacking an obvious link to royalty, it represents the spirit of the early Romantics, who beckoned the masses to rise and share equally in mankind’s greatest aspirations, to be ennobled by their common humanity, not by accident of birth.

The Couperin work is a trio for flute, cello and harpsichord, and in instrumental order, Stephanie Jutt, Beth Rapier and Layton James gave a reading of precision and effortless expression.

An unseen surprise was next; BDDS co-founder Jeffrey Sykes appeared to explain that, in 21 years of the festival, this was to have been the first concert that he did not actually perform…until WPT called to say they wanted to document the event. So we received the rarest of BDDS events — a solo turn on piano, with Sykes offering the Piano Sonata No. 49 of Haydn. The royal link? Apparently it was composed for the wife of the royal physician.

Better still, it is one of the greatest of the Haydn sonatas, and Sykes was allowed full range to display his deft touch with Haydn’s humor, tender affection, and to underline the foreshadowings of the young Beethoven, about to become “Papa” Haydn’s pupil.

BDDS’ other co-founder, Stephanie Jutt, again had the spotlight in Johann Peter Salomon’s arrangement of Haydn’s Symphony No. 85. Salomon was the impresario who arranged Haydn’s two enormously successful sojourns to London late in the composer’s life. His arrangements of several of the symphonies for flute, string quartet and harpsichord also did much to spread Haydn’s fame and influence.

This is the third occasion that BDDS had programmed one of these arrangements, and they remain a unique and delightful way to experience these works: Jutt’s flute adds just enough color to the strings, James’ harpsichord artistry is the model of understated yet expressive accompaniment, and the string quartet of Kataryzna Bryla, Carmit Zori, Daniel Panner and Rapier offered both precision and layers of transparency.

With the added Haydn sonata, the requisite door prize drawings and the “special guest,” (traditions no BDDS devotee would skip!) the night threatened to turn long by concert standards, but none dared miss the quintet of Zori, Bryla, Panner, and cellists Anthony Ross and Rapier in bringing the Schubert Quintet to life. The resumes of these artists are testament to the quality of BDDS: founder of other festivals, Juilliard faculty, members of the Baltimore and Minnesota Orchestras.

The danger in this masterpiece — even for artists as accomplished as these five — is that the overarching greatness of the work can lead players to make every bar of the music a miniature shrine, worshiping over every phrase, the music eventually strangled by the musicians’ own veneration of it.

But these five gave a reading of living, breathing urgency, a rapturous traversal too full of telling details to enumerate. Here is all need be said: In a work that spans fifty minutes (even without some repeats omitted), a special sense of timelessness emerged; not only did it not matter how long the evening wore on, one fervently desired it would never end.

When it did, it concluded with a rapid rise to a prolonged standing ovation. One was left feeling sorry for just one small group of persons — the editors of Wisconsin Public Television. How will they ever decide what to cut to fit the concert into their time slot?

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About This Blog

Years before I contributed my first classical review to the Los Angeles Times in 1988, I started a class in music appreciation for adults that had one aim: to put a few cracks in the “ivory tower elitism” I found pervasive in the classical music world since my boyhood days. Whether as a critic, program annotator or band director, that goal has never changed. After all, Mozart and Beethoven and the gang wrote their music for people like you—not critics or professors!

After growing up in the suburbs of New York City, and spending twenty years in and around Los Angeles, the last twelve years here leave me more amazed than ever at the musical riches of Madison. I’m a cheerleader at heart, because I always think more people would become classical fans if they’d give it a chance—but I’m also quick to tell you when you’re not getting your money’s worth. Classically Speaking brings you as much news and as many reviews as possible, and I hope you’ll join me for a fabulous musical journey.

–  Greg Hettmansberger
Follow Greg on Twitter @ghettmansberger

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