For Sunday’s finale of the 2017 classics concert series, the Northwest Bach Festival exchanged the geniality of Barrister Winery, which served so well for concerts of chamber music, to the grandeur of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. This allowed for not only more players, but for a different class of music, intended for performance in a larger acoustical space.
Returning after an immensely successful appearance at last year’s Bach festival was conductor Piotr Gajewski to conduct four works for chamber orchestra: the Serenade No. 13 in G major, K. 525, “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik” of W.A. Mozart; Cantata BWV 51, “Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen,” by J.S. Bach; The “Serenade in E minor” Op. 20 by Sir Edward Elgar; and Mozart’s Motet K. 165, “Exsultate, Jubilate.”
The soprano soloist in both the Bach cantata and the Mozart motet was Danielle Talamantes, whose voice displayed not only beauty and power, but the dazzling agility required to negotiate the torrents of embellishment, or “coloratura,” demanded in both works. As remarkable as these performances were in themselves, Talamantes’ achievement was all the more impressive to those who had attended her solo song recital at Barrister Winery just the night before, and heard her mastery of repertoire that made totally different demands on the performer. For a soprano voice of such size and power as we heard on Saturday, in songs of Turina, Granados and Ellington, also to possess such nimbleness and agility is a very rare phenomenon, indeed. The ovation she received made plain that everyone felt fortunate to have witnessed it.
Joining Talamantes as featured soloist in the Bach cantata was Larry Jess, principal trumpet of the Spokane Symphony. Bach is just as demanding of the trumpet soloist as he is of the soprano in this work, and Jess responded with playing of great beauty and virtuosity, matching the singer’s phrasing and joyous spirit perfectly, and displaying a trill that would make most professionals consider finding another line of work.
From the opening bars of the concert, conductor Gajewski displayed the same mix of artistic virtues that made such a strong impression at his last appearance here, most notably his uncanny ability to find and maintain not only an appropriate tempo, but the perfect tempo for every part of every piece he conducts.
This may seem too commonplace an ability to warrant much praise, but yesterday’s concert demonstrated both how crucial it is, and how rare. Combining this gift with a laser-like ear for balance, Gajewski revealed countless felicities in these well-known works that usually go unheard. It appears that he bases his choice of tempo not on the obvious melodic lines, as is typical, but rather on the bass cleff, which carries the harmonic foundation of a piece. Doing this allows the structure of the work to stand out more clearly, and the melodies and their embellishments to emerge with complete naturalness. The result was that even such a chestnut as “Eine Kleine Nachtmusik,” which pours from loudspeakers in every café and metro station in Vienna, emerges as though newly minted, able to awaken us afresh to the miracle of Mozart’s genius.
As a tribute to the late Dr. Elizabeth Welty, whose generosity and unflagging commitment contributed immeasurably to the progress of the arts in Spokane, festival artistic director Zuill Bailey brought his cello to the stage to perform the Bach-Gounod “Ave Maria,” accompanied by the organist of the cathedral, John Bodinger. The performers’ deep spiritual commitment and musical mastery placed the performance above criticism.
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