Northwest Bach Festival, Wednesday, Jan. 10, The Met
The Bach Festival audience was treated to an evening of chamber music-making at its peak Wednesday at The Met.
Flutist Michael Faust and harpsichordist Ilton Wjuniski proved consummate musical partners in a program that listed works by J.S. Bach and two of his sons. For encores, the duo played two pieces by the very young W.A. Mozart.
Wjuniski and Faust reconfirmed the high reputation formed by their appearance here in the 1991 Bach Festival. They were two players fully attuned, not only to each other, but to the inner character of the music they played. Their mastery of the technical resources of their instruments allowed the pair to address the music’s eloquence or its humor or its drama or its dance qualities.
Faust has a seemly limitless supply of air enabling him to wend his way through Bach’s complex melodic lines, and he is able to project a whisper-soft tone over the footlights. Wjuniski possesses an uncanny ability to make the harpsichord sing, something that the instrument is not supposed to be able to do.
Wednesday’s program was somewhat unorthodox. Much of the flute-and-harpsichord music formerly attributed to J.S. Bach is now viewed with skepticism by Bach scholars: The Sonata in G minor with which Wjuniski and Faust opened their program is almost certainly by someone else, and the courtly Sonata in E-flat major in the second half of the program seems more likely to have been written by C.P.E. Bach than by his father.
These problems of attribution did not matter in the least. The quality of all the music played Wednesday was very high, and the performers brought out the works’ best qualities just as great actors might do with some less-than-stellar roles.
Two of the program’s finest pieces assuredly by J.S. Bach were not originally for flute and harpsichord.
The Sonata in C minor that ended the recital’s first half was written for organ and the Suite in C minor that served as centerpiece after intermission was for solo lute. Faust and Wjuniski seemed to take special delight in the dizzying technical demands of the “Lute” Suite.
The final gigue was truly breathtaking, and it featured a “double,” or variation, for harpsichord alone that a ragtime player would call a “knuckle-buster.”
The evening’s startling surprise came in the Sonata in C major by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach, J.S. Bach’s second youngest son.
For the most part, it was a perfectly ordinary work. But the sonata’s fantasylike middle movement seemed almost bizarre in its structure: The lyric flow of the flute’s melodies was interrupted repeatedly by the harpsichord “speaking” in a sorrow-drenched, operatic recitative.
Composers of the mid-18th century often based pieces of music on a famous story or poem and then left the listener to guess what the literary model was. Faust and Wjuniski made J.C.F Bach’s fantasy successful as pure music. Still, I was curious: What did it mean?
Faust and Wjuniski responded to a well-deserved standing ovation and continued applause with two brief sonata movements by Mozart, a witty allegro and a sighing, songful minuet. Mozart was all of 8 when he wrote them but, as Faust put it, “young but not immature.”
Faust and Wjuniski make a rare team whose musical perceptiveness is equaled by technical skills of the very highest order.