"Bach: The Baroque Master" was the title of Saturday evening's Utah Symphony chamber program, presumably a reference to the great Johann Sebastian. So why did they begin with a piece by his son Carl Philipp Emanuel, one of the first to move music beyond the baroque?
Whatever the answer, the piece in question, the B flat major String Symphony, W. 182, No. 2, is as good an example of C.P.E.'s more liberated style as one could wish. Full of unexpected turns, it bristles with life and, for all its outward good cheer, a strong sense of drama - for example, the abruptly suspended first movement.Under associate conductor Kirk Muspratt it came in for an energetic reading, perhaps a bit flyaway at the outset but properly spirited, with the harpsichord nicely in balance. Which pretty much set the tone for what followed - i.e., similarly spirited accounts of three works from the tree from which the fruit fell, namely J.S. himself.
Included were the A minor Violin Concerto, with concertmaster Ralph Matson as soloist; its cousin, the Concerto in C minor for Violin and Oboe - reconstructed from the Concerto for Two Claviers, BWV 1060 - with Matson and oboist Robert Stephenson; and the B minor Suite for Orchestra, with flutist Erich Graf.
Need I say that all of this is wonderful music? I imagine even a first-time listener would be won over by the sheer melodic invention and interplay between soloists and orchestra. The substance is even more apparent on repeated exposure, however, especially in performances as dedicated as these.
Certainly the A minor Violin Concerto brought out the best in Matson, whose playing was at its most beguiling in the Andante, its long-breathed phrases enhanced by his sweet tone and controlled vibrato. Beneath this the strumming ostinato of the orchestra registered strongly (due in part to Muspratt's positioning the low strings and continuo toward the center), bracketed by their generally on-point playing in the outer movements.
For my money the slow movement was likewise the highlight of the violin-and-oboe concerto, a cantabile-like duet over pizzicato strings. Elsewhere I have heard more judiciously scaled accounts - here at times the oboe tended to overwhelm the violin - but for the most part the soloists were pretty much in sync not only with one another but with the orchestra.
Ditto Graf's work in the Suite in B minor, which managed to be even more fluid and more imaginatively ornamented.
As such it accorded well with Muspratt's uninsistently stylish view of this piece, from the mildly double-dotted Overture (in Bach's day the entire piece would have been referred to as an "Ouverture") to the semi-subdued but otherwise fleet-fluted Badinerie.
In between came stately readings of the slower movements, including a perhaps too deliberate Polonaise and a Minuet in which the appoggiaturas were definitely not snapped (i.e., the long vs. the short view), and some beautifully shaded solos in the softer sections. At the same time the first Bourree might have been more sharply pointed and, given the botched start of the Badinerie (in which the flutist appeared to have been taken by surprise), they really should have done this one over.