Bach & Beyond Festival Concludes Today At Fredonia Opera House

FREDONIA – The 1891 Fredonia Opera House’s Bach & Beyond Festival for 2013 shifted gears in its second concert, Saturday evening, to highlight “Beyond,” i.e. composers who mostly followed Johann Sebastian Bach, but used ideas and/or elements of his music in styles different and especially in one case, substantially later than his.

The highlight of the concert was the concluding work, composed by the festival’s Music Director, Grant Cooper, for a setting of a contemporary poem, in the style of a Passacaglia. Poet Tom Beal was present in Friday’s audience to hear his poem “A Song of Longing, Though …” performed by Cooper and the International Baroque Soloists, and exquisitely sung by soprano Janet Brown.

I have to say, it was the most beautiful piece of music which I have heard in many a day. The music undulates, rather like the sea – which is the poem’s most significant visual image – from A minor to the key of E-flat. The soprano’s voice occasionally reached for the stratosphere, though it clung largely in the chest register, in pure notes and solid intonation, throughout. It perfectly embodied Beal’s imagery, of raindrops gathering, then flowing to the sea, which then crashes against giant rocks, producing an eternal song of the poet’s love for his beloved.

It was thrilling, and the audience gave composer, poet, and performing artists, wave upon wave of applause, to match it.

The featured instrument of the evening was the rich-voiced viola, featuring a “Concerto for Viola in E-flat” by Alessandro Rolla, performed by soloist David Rose, followed by a “Duet for Two Violas,” by Bach’s oldest son, Wilhelm Friedemann Bach, both of which extended the original composer’s style into the more recent and more popular classical style. Rose was joined in the duet by Brian Walnicki.

Gifted oboist Cheryl Bishkoff, who opened this year’s festivities with an extensive solo on Friday, returned for G.F. Handel’s “Sonata for Oboe in C Minor,” joined in the performance by bassoonist Laura Koepke and harpsichordist Karl Paulnack. Earlier, Paulnack had performed a solo for harpsichord, also by Handel.

Following intermission, Paulnack switched from harpsichord to modern piano, with which he accompanied Bulgarian violinist Yuliyan Stoyanov for an Early 20th Century examination of the ”Follia” of Archangelo Correlli which has been the basis of a substantial number of works in this year’s festival.

Looking back on the first two performances of this year’s festival, they have beautifully demonstrated that a historical period in which the average person could witness beheadings, burnings alive, disembowellings, and any number of savagely brutal acts, frequently performed for religious reasons, the souls of mankind could still produce elements of enormous beauty, tranquillity, elegance and peace.

The magic of music can encompass this historical contradiction, and clearly has done so.

There remains one more concert in the “Bach & Beyond” Festival, which will be performed this afternoon at 3 p.m.