Monday, February 6, 2017

Benjamin Hudson and Antoinette Perry play Bach, Patterson and Mozart

Michael Patterson

First Fridays at First!, First Lutheran Church, Torrance

Benjamin Hudson
Rain rather decimated the audience for February’s “First Fridays at First!” lunchtime concert. This was a shame, because it was a beautifully balanced program in which two masterpieces of the violin/piano repertoire, one Baroque, one Classical, bookended a welcome, if brief, piece of hardline modernism and its more mellifluous companion, by a composer new to me.

The leaflet’s bio for violinist Benjamin Hudson noted, among numerous other appointments, his seasons with the Drottningholm Court Theatre Orchestra and London’s Hanover Band, and both these bodies’ embrace of period instruments and historically informed performing practice boded well for Mr. Hudson’s accounts of Bach’s Sonata No. 3 in E BWV1016, and Mozart’s Sonata No. 35 in A, K526 (his penultimate in the genre). However, there was no really hardline eschewing of vibrato in either performance, just a restrained use of it that contributed to tenderness and a slight sense of fragility in slow movements and light-footed athleticism in fast.

Antoinette Perry
Genre names like symphony and sonata are so ubiquitous that it’s easy to take them for granted and not reflect that they must have an origin somewhere. Bach’s six violin sonatas BWV1014-1019 are generally regarded as the first such, where the keyboard part is fully written out as the violin’s equal partner. Though for cembalo (i.e. harpsichord), the piano works perfectly well if played with the appropriate sensibility, and that was just what Antoinette Perry supplied.

Bach’s sonata is in the four-movement slow-fast-slow-fast sonata da chiesa form of the time, with no sections marked to be repeated. Mozart’s, on the other hand, written two-thirds of a century later, has both halves of both the first two movements repeated, plus two short sections at the opening of the finale. Whether none, some, or all of these are observed clearly varies the overall playing time a good deal. In this performance only the first movement first repeat and the finale’s pair were played: a judicious decision for a short lunchtime recital, though I for one would be intrigued to hear a go-for-broke account of the work with all repeats, ideally having the second movement Andante walk a little faster than it did here.

As it was, the commonality of mood between the Bach slow movements and that of the Mozart – amongst his more sombre – testified to astute program-planning by the duo.

For the two short pieces by the contemporary American Michael Patterson in the middle of the recital, the leaflet reproduced his brief note: “In writing this short, lively piece Esprit, I wanted to counter the meditative quality of its companion piece Ave’, which was composed as a quiet piece for contemplation, a ‘wordless’ Antiphon in a sense, used in earlier times to acknowledge a spiritual presence. Esprit is quite different in mood and tempo and in its compositional approach. It is actually a rigorous serial piece, concise in design, and mostly based on triadic hexachords.”

I enjoyed both, though I wonder why their order was reversed. As it was, after Bach’s divine clockwork the spiky explosive opening of Esprit came as quite a shock, before it settled to a mood of uneasy stasis punctuated by lightning flicks and flashes from both instruments. Ave’ formed the promised contrast, a grave and consolatory arioso for the violin, with a touched-in accompaniment of mostly isolated quiet piano chords. I found it all too brief.


“First Fridays at First!”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 12.15pm, Friday, February 3, 2017.
Photo credits: Michael Patterson, Benjamin Hudson, Antoinette Perry

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