Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

January 6, 2024

REVIEW: Berkshire Bach Society, "Bach at New Year’s"

Academy of Music, Northampton, MA
December 30, 2023
by Michael J. Moran

This annual concert presented every New Year’s weekend in three Berkshire-area venues by
professional musicians from the region and beyond can always be counted on to send the old year out and welcome the new year in on a high note.

This year’s program, led by Eugene Drucker, Music Director of the seasoned sixteen-member Berkshire Bach Ensemble (and a founding violinist of the recently retired Emerson String Quartet), opened with a sprightly reading of Corelli’s so-called “Christmas” Concerto, inscribed “for the night of Christmas,” likely in 1690. The unusual closing pastorale was especially tender.
Kenneth Weiss then soloed in a lively account of Bach’s 1734 first concerto for harpsichord and orchestra, with a notably solemn central “Adagio” movement. Drucker (otherwise leading from the concertmaster’s chair) was next an expressive soloist in the same master’s 1730 violin concerto in A minor, where again the slow movement, this time marked “Andante,” made the deepest emotional impression.

Intermission featured an entertaining rarity, the five-movement 1728 “Gulliver Suite” for two violins by Bach’s friend Telemann, depicting episodes from Jonathan Swift’s then recent (1726) novel “Gulliver’s Travels.” Violists Ronald Gorevic and Liuh-Wen Ting played a transcription for two violas with humor and verve, including a stately “Lilliputian Chaconne” and a brisk “Brobdingnagian Gigue.”

Telemann’s concerto for two oboes and bassoon, “Concerto alla francese,” next showcased oboists Margaret Owens and Jessica Warren and bassoonist Stephen Walt as elegant soloists. Flutist Judith Mendenhall and violinist Michael Roth then soloed virtuosically in Handel’s 1734 Concerto Grosso, Op. 3/3, which offers, in Drucker’s words, “fugal writing that almost rivals Bach’s command of counterpoint.”

Next up was Biber’s wild-sounding, war-inspired 1673 suite “Battalia a 10,” whose “March” asks the double bass player to imitate the sound of a snare drum by placing a sheet of paper between the strings and the fingerboard, a move skillfully executed by Rick Ostrovsky. The concert closed with an exuberant performance of Bach’s second “Brandenburg” Concerto, which highlighted the clarion trumpet sound of Maximilian Morel.

This two-hour plus festival of Baroque music was further enhanced by the Academy’s warm yet clear acoustics. 

The Berkshire Bach Society next presents organist Renee Anne Louprette on February 10, 2024 at the Unitarian Universalist Meeting House in Housatonic, MA.