July 21, 2011
Pebble Beach's Church in the Forest is a narrow but high passageway of a space ending in floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto spindly, lush pines and twisty oaks. A reverent setting for Wednesday's Twilight Trios of the Baroque, led by Bach Festival concertmaster and first violin Peter Hanson, who, in addition to being an accomplished interpreter of early and classical music, is pretty funny.
He switched the order of the program, opening with the second piece in the original program, Henry Purcell's "Fantazia in D Major."
"There's a reason [for the switch]," he said. "You don't need to know it."
The audience was tickled by the wry humor. They had filled up the pews, the balcony, the more than dozen folding chairs, and sat on the stairs to the balcony, transfixed by the gorgeous sound emanating from the raised dais. It came courtesy of violinists Hanson, Patricia Ahern and Gabrielle Wunsch, cellist Margaret Jordan-Gay and archlutist Daniel Swenberg, who, in talking about his unusual instrument, said, "People ask me 'What do you call it?' 'Uh, Fred.'"
Purcell's piece harkened to Pachelbel's "Canon in D Major," the bass line from cello laying a foundation as steady as breathing and the violins diverging from each other and converging into synch, again and again, with just a bit of dissonance pricking up the ears.
George Frideric Handel's Trio Sonata in G Minor started out with strains of melancholy in its first movement, then became sprightly in the next two, with a cyclical return to the first melody in the last. The complex piece, Hanson said, was written by Handel at age 14. What a bumper sticker that would have made his proud parents.
The third piece in the program was by J.S. Bach.
"I was programming this Bach Festival," Hanson told the audience. "I better put in some Bach." He assured that the selection, "Sonata No. 1 in C Major," was deep, "fantastic" and a "clever piece of writing."
A couple of notable occurrences in this piece: Hanson and Ahern's seemingly dueling violins, and little recurring crescendos that stopped the music completely, like it was leaping across the ground, with the cello following closely behind. One in the audience simply said "Wow."
The last programmed piece of music came from Vivaldi, his Trio Sonata in D Minor, Op. 1, "La Folia," a visit to the Mediterranean, said Hanson, that takes the form of a dance, one that was banned in its time. Its framework is a variation on a theme and for it, Swenberg switched from the archlute to an acoustic guitar, the cello thumped a percussively staccato rhythm, and, at times, the strings flitted furiously fast until it seemed they would start to smoke.
At the end of the applause for the show, Hanson announced a surprise: a hidden bonus track. The quintet (the trio format, as explained in the program notes, refers to "the number of parts, rather than the number of performers," a variation of a bass instrument, like the cello, with treble instruments, usually two or more violins) began the familiar and iconic strains of Pachelbel's Canon in D major. And as the performers approached the spirited finish, all three violinists, attacking with gusto, swayed like trees dancing in a wind: like the trees behind them, outside the floor-to-ceiling windows, would have been swaying had there been much wind. But all the moving forces, at that day's twilight show, were inside.
For a full schedule of the final week of the Carmel Bach Festival, go to www.bachfestival.org.