Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

June 21, 2010

Aston Magna

Simon's Rock, Great Barrington, MA
June 19, 2010
by Debra Tinkahm

Daniel Stepner stole the show. Stepner was the show, with the help of Johann Sebastian Bach, that is. As the Artistic Director of Aston Magna, the oldest annual summer festival in America, Stepner stepped off with the Partita III in E Major. As Stepner explained, "…Partita is to dance vicariously," and dance he did - on his violin. The Preludio was a "brilliant introduction" that portrayed the usual Stepner emotion. Here is a simple stage with a black background, Stepner standing throughout the entire performance, using no music.

The Loure had many subtle two-note chords, which continued throughout this Partita, with purposeful phrasing and short, non-staccato, phrases. Stepner had fun with the lively, beautifully phrased Gavotte. Menuets I and II were a harmonic three-quarter time, while the Bouree's nature was that of a country line dance with clogs. The Gigue implied a British tone.

As Stepner said, "Partita I in B minor affords me double trouble. Within these four movements, there are four shadow movements." The Allemanda was mysteriously dramatic. Corrente, Sarabande and Borea movements were a mix-n-match of variations. Chromatic Fantasy, arranged for violin by Stepner, had some dramatic chromatics. Chromatic implies non-melodic, but this was melodic, just with a lot of notes.

Bach's Partita in D minor was five examples of dramatic and emotional execution. Moving from Allemanda into the Corrente, with nice punctuation and phrasing, one realized Bach's brilliant composing ability, but let the audience not forget Stepner's desire to keep such mastery alive. Sarabanda and Giga showed some fast moving, melodic variations, but the Ciaccona, in Stepner's words were, "…originally a very fast and very lude dance from Mexico, which caught on like wildfire." Later, moving through the European venues, Bach incorporated this dance into a French version of his operatic finales.

For those who have not experienced Aston Magna, there are three more summer concerts. Everyone should enjoy the work of "Stepner and company" at least once in a lifetime.