Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 20, 2008

Aston Magna Summer Concerts

Simon’s Rock, Great Barrington
concerts every Saturday
by Debra Tinkham

Aston Magna and Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Art of the Fugue” went off flawlessly at Simon’s Rock College. This venue featured eight talented musicians -- talented being a gross understatement -- on nine baroque-period instruments.

Daniel Stepner, Artistic Director and violinist extraordinaire, began the program by briefly explaining the definition of fugue, which meant "chasing." And chasing they did, via duet, trio, quartet, octet – the whole “nine yards”. Without going into a long history of Bach’s Fugues, suffice it to say, they are problematic, they are original, they are inverted (it gets complicated).

This extremely loaded program, without intermission, was an evening of perfection. Stephen Hammer, oboe; Stepner, violin; Andrew Schwartz, bassoon; and David Miller, viola, began with a simple (original form) Contrapunctus I. Not only during this piece, but throughout the evening, the artists were unified in their playful interaction, while at all times keeping a keen eye out for Stepner’s direction.

Let’s jump to the end – Contrapunctus XIV -- which was, as Steven Ledbetter puts it, “… perhaps the greatest and assuredly the most complex fugue Bach ever created.” But, the big question is, did Bach fail to complete the fugue? Several scholars have attempted to finish the composition, but Stepner says: “We’ve done it with the ending trailing off…which seems the only honest way to end the piece. There are several creditable endings but these all seem ultimately unconvincing.” Will we ever know?

Aston Magna has completed several recordings by J.S. Bach; W.A. Mozart, Handel, Schubert, Monteverdi, and others as well as a book on Schubert and a soon to be released book of J.S. Bach. Perhaps an investment in their music would be an excellent alternative, if unable to attend a concert.