John Frayne: BACH, youngster worthy of praise

John Frayne: BACH, youngster worthy of praise

On Oct. 22, four musicians of Baroque Artists of Champaign-Urbana gave a very pleasurable concert of Baroque music on original instruments at the Chapel of St. John the Divine in Champaign. The musicians were Sun Young Gemma Shin, violin, Amanda Pond, flute, Benjamin Hayek, viola da gamba and violincello, and Charlotte Mattax Moersch, harpsichord.

If on some days you would like to turn down the volume on the early 21st century, then Baroque chamber music is a soothing relief. The music at this concert was subdued, and the emotional temperature was alike restrained as in the first long selection the “Premier Concert Royal” by Francois Couperin (1668-1733), usually referred to as “Le Grand.” These pieces were a sparkling array of five of the typical dance forms of this period, with the dominant voice of Pond’s flute, subtly backed up by Moersch’s harpsichord and Hayek’s viola da gamba.

Arcangelo Corelli’s Sonata in C Major, Op. 5, No. 3 for Violin and Basso Continuo offered strong contrast as Shin’s brilliant playing offered passionate emotion. No wonder the music of such Italian composers as Corelli and Antonio Vivaldi quickly spread all over Europe!

George Frideric Handel’s Trio Sonata in B Minor, HWV 386 enabled flutist Pond, Shin and Hayek an opportunity to open a window on Handel’s characteristic genius. The “Largo” movement, with its intriguing melody, was a special delight.

After intermission, Mattax-Moersch at the harpsichord played the opening Aria and six of the variations from Johann Sebastian Bach’s famous “Goldberg” Variations. Her precise but rhythmically subtle playing brought out the brilliant inventiveness of Bach’s contrapuntal genius. The name of Carl Friedrich Abel was new to me. Abel (1723-87) was active and well known in London as a collaborator with Johann Christian Bach, the son of J.S. Bach known as “London Bach.”

Hayek, playing with rich tone, offered an insight into Abel’s songful but modest talents. The concert ended with Johann Sebastian Bach’s Trio Sonata in C Major, BWV 1039, which displayed Bach in a pleasant, dare I say “well-tempered,” mood, with a jaunty, happy finale that capped off the relaxing pleasures of this concert.

BACH’s next concert, “Songs of Gratitude,” at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 12 at McKinley Presbyterian Church, 809 South 5th St., C, will be conducted by BACH’s new music director, Joseph Baldwin.

Pianist Nathan Lee, 15 years old, is a hugely talented musician. The evidence was his well-balanced and challenging recital on Nov. 5 at the Sunday Salon Series in the Foellinger Great Hall. His opening selection, Bach’s Partita No. 4 in D major, BWV 828, was played with mature discipline and lyrical attention to the rhythmic contrasts among the dance movements. The slow Allemande and Sarabande sections were particularly well played. Mozart’s somber “Adagio for Piano in B Minor,” K. 540 showed Lee’s ability to convey strong emotion as Mozart, with striking dissonance, shifted from minor to major keys.

But Lee has youthful high spirits, and his next choice was Nikolai Kapustin’s jazzy free-for-all “Variations for Piano,” Op. 41. Lee pulled out the stops in this high-spirited romp.

Frédéric Chopin’s Sonata No. 3 in B Minor, Op. 58 is an interpretive challenge, and Lee coped bravely with virtuosic fingering in the explosive sections and superbly controlled legato in the soulful Largo movement.

If any doubts about Lee’s brilliance remained, they were left far behind in Alfred Grünfeld’s “Soiree de Vienne,” Op. 56, a knuckle-busting pile-on of ornamentation on the melodies of Johann Strauss’ famous operetta “Die Fledermaus” (“The Bat”).

After the fireworks ended, the audience on stage quickly rose, as did most in the balcony. Lee bowed, looked us over and decided to sit down and play a poetic rendering of a transcription of Claude Debussy’s song “Beau Soir” (“Lovely Evening”). After prolonged applause, Lee impishly leaped on the piano seat and tore through Moritz Moszcowski’s dazzling Etude No. 6. I certainly hope to see and hear Lee soon again.

John Frayne hosts “Classics of the Phonograph” on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the UI. Reach him at frayne@illinois.ed