Bach favourites and rarities well done by Baroque festival.

There was a full house for the opening concert of the Adelaide Bach Festival, at Elder Hall, and the excited expectation of the crowd was palpable. The buzz of the audience briefly quieted into disappointment when it was announced that the highly respected violin soloist, Elizabeth Layton, was ill and unable to perform. However, to everyone’s relief, Lachlan Bramble, the director of the Elder Conservatorium Chamber Orchestra, stepped in to take her place.

The concert kicked off with Jakub Kowalewski’s string arrangement of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BWV 565. Originally an organ work, any initial concern that the freedom of the toccata might be lost in ensemble was quickly allayed, as Kowalewski’s version cleverly manages to maintain the necessary flexibility by using violin solos. The capable young orchestra appeared professional, and a surprisingly rich bass section drove the whole piece along. It was interesting to see the subject of the fugue move between the string sections, an orchestral choreography that visually illustrated what we were hearing.

The second piece in the program was Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Oboe in C Minor, BWV 1060R. Celia Craig’s performance was confident and engaging and her exquisite oboe lines were at times meltingly beautiful. Lachlan Bramble proved to be an enthusiastic partner, and made a sustained effort to play in the Baroque style. The orchestra did a competent job of accompanying, and echoing, the soloists, with only the occasional balance issue. The call and response between the soloists in the Adagio section was particularly satisfying and was supported by a strict, timekeeping pizzicato in the orchestra. The audience became a little restless towards the end of the movement, perhaps because the tempo began to drag a little. However, they were instantly re-engaged by an animated rendition of the well-known theme of the final Allegro, and applauded eagerly.

The final piece in the program was Bach’s Orchestral Suite No 2 in B Minor, BWV 1067. Baroque flautist Lisa Gill capably lead the orchestra through this suite of courtly dances. One of the highlights was the Polonaise, where the flute moved into its higher register supported by a warm string sound from the orchestra. The solo section of this movement allowed Gill to shine, and her skill and fluency was evident. The Badinerie was another highlight, providing a lively and playful ending to the opening of the Adelaide Bach Festival. This was a concert of Bach favorites and was both well executed and enthusiastically received.

In contrast to the opening concert, the atmosphere of the audience in Elder Hall prior to the third concert of the Bach Festival was a little subdued, possibly due to the late hour. Screens had been strategically placed around the room to accommodate a smaller crowd and to create a more intimate chamber music sound.

The program consisted of Bach’s Sonata in F Minor for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1018; Sonata in E Minor for Violin and Continue, BWV 1023; and Sonata in G Major for Violin and Harpsichord, BWV 1019, three Bach pieces that are rarely played in Adelaide.

There was a lot to hear in this concert with two seasoned Baroque music specialists, Lucinda Moon on solo violin and John O’Donnell as harpsichordist and chamber organist, playing very complex and interesting music with several moments of striking beauty.

The velvety tone of the Baroque violin obligato at the beginning of the unusually lengthy Largo movement in the Sonata in F Minor was especially memorable. The audience really warmed up when Moon, accompanied by O’Donnell on the chamber organ, played the virtuosic violin solo at the beginning of the Sonata in E Minor. O’Donnell shone in the middle Allegro movement of the Sonata in G Major, a solo harpsichord movement that allowed the audience to focus on the complex contrapuntal interplay between each line of keyboard music.

This was a concert of rare and interesting Bach works, and it was a privilege to hear them played by Baroque specialists.