Thursday, March 7, 2013

Concert: Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra + Masaaki Suzuki (12/13/2012)

The Center for Performing Arts, Atherton

A Bach Christmas

BACH: Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068
BACH: Cantata No. 63 Christen, ätzet diesen Tag, BWV 63
BACH: Magnificat in E-flat major, BWV 243a

Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra,
Masaaki Suzuki, conductor

Soloists alumni from Yale University’s Schola Cantorum: 
Sherezade Panthaki, soprano
Claire Kelm, soprano
Fabiana González, alto
Dann Coakwell, tenor
Dashon Burton, bass-baritone

Philharmonia Chorale, Bruce Lamott, director

去年十二月中,Philharmonia Baroque請來了古樂界國際知名的Masaaki Suzuki(鈴木雅明)當客座指揮。由於Suzuki的專長是Bach,所以這一天晚上的曲目全是Bach的音樂也是可以預見的。

音樂會表演的第一首為巴哈的第三首管絃樂組曲。這首可說是世界名曲,全仰賴第二樂章的那首G絃上的詠嘆調。在Suzuki的帶領下,Philharmonia Baroque的氣勢十足,速度和強弱的拿捏也都很合適。裡面美中不足,也是聽了那麼多年的PBO的感想,就是他們吹銅管的音家素質仍有待加強。雖然要將這些銅管古樂器吹好的困難程度遠大過於現代版的樂器,不過PBO銅管凸槌的比例有點過高。和旁邊的愛樂老先生聊起來,他也說PBO這方面的缺陷他已經是睜一隻眼,閉一隻眼了。

聊點正面的地方,PBO的絃樂的水準其實還算不錯。擔任小提琴首席的Carla Moore,是灣區活躍的巴洛克小提琴家。她常演出的Voices of Music,是灣區素質非常高的古樂團。Moore的琴藝,自然不在話下。在G絃上的詠嘆調中,她擔任獨奏小提琴的部份,樂句修飾也極漂亮。

上半場第二首是BWV 63的清唱劇,是巴哈第一首為慶祝聖誕節寫的清唱劇。這首的開場和收尾都是編制大,場面熱鬧的樂章,有四支小號,兩支雙簧管,以及合唱團。而這首清唱劇架構極對稱,中間五個樂章分別是「宣敘調–二重唱–宣敘調–二重唱–宣敘調 」。獨奏的聲樂家也有四位,在二重唱兩兩配對(soprano–bass與alto–tenor),另外還有三首宣敘調是給alto,tenor,與bass唱的。四位的音量中氣十足,至少在那個音樂廳是沒問題的。特別是那個bass,聲音尤其洪亮。

不過最美的樂章,莫過於第一首二重唱,除了有soprano和bass,還有雙簧管伴奏。之前去聽Egarr帶Philharmonia Baroque的時候,發現當天吹oboe的兩位音樂家不大行。不過,這天擔任oboe獨奏的是當家的Gonzalo Ruiz,程度比之前PBO吹雙簧管好太多了。他在這一段獨奏的悠揚與婉轉,是我聽過最美麗的現場巴洛克雙簧管表演之一。

 Gonzalo Ruiz, Baroque oboist

下半場表演的只有一首,即那首Magnificat(聖母讚主曲),不過不是較常演奏的D大調BWV 243版本,而是早期的另一個版本。BWV 243a這一版,是1723年巴哈第一年接任萊比錫Thomascantor一職時,就為慶祝耶誕節而寫的。除了高了半音,是降E大調之外,又穿插了四首和耶誕節相關的歌曲,因此總長度比D大調版來得更長一些。

和上半場的管絃樂組曲與清唱劇一樣,這首Magnificat的開場同樣也是華麗隆重。我覺得這樣的曲目,一定是Suzuki先生特別精心的安排,讓大家好好迎接佳節氣氛。也如同之前的兩首曲子,Suzuki指揮PBO很到位。節奏的掌握,不會慢到過於莊嚴,也不會快到近乎輕佻。除了Savall多年前來指揮PBO,有表演管絃樂組曲,這場音樂會是近年來聽PBO, 整體氣氛最盛大的一場。經由Suzuki,這首Magnificat有應有的動力,但同時也有一定的感性。



Last December, Maestro Suzuki was in the Bay Area guest conducting the PBO.  As he is known for being an expert on Bach, a whole evening program of just Bach was kind of expected.

The first piece of the night was the well-known Orchestral Suite No.3, with the all-so-famous Air on the G string, a permanent fixture in the top 100 most recognized classical music tunes.  Suzuki is able to evoke grandeur and brilliance in PBO, at the right tempo and the dynamics.  The most often minor setback by attending the PBO concerts over the years, is that you come to expect clams coming from the brass players.  In all fairness, these natural trumpets are painstakingly more difficult to master than their modern counterparts.  However, the frequency of these clams leaves the casual audience much to be desired.  In the case of speaking to a long-time concert-goer sitting next to me, you can also just look past it and enjoy the rest of the performance, which is exactly what I have chosen to do.

The PBO has a fairly strong string section, when they bring their A game.  Regular concertmasters include members of Voices of Music, a simply superb Bay Area early music group.  This night, the role of concertmaster fell on Carla Moore, a Baroque violinist with outstanding technique and musicianship.  The Air on G string was tastefully done.

The second piece of the night was a cantata, BWV 63.  It is lavishly scored for 4 trumpets, 2 oboes, a chorus, and 4 soloists.  Special mention also goes to the strict symmetry of its structure.  Flanked by the choral pieces in the outer movements, the inner movements are more intimate with the arrangement of recitative–duet–recitative–duet–recitative, where 4 soloists are paired up soprano–bass and alto–tenor in the duets.  The 4 soloists, hand-picked by Suzuki himself for the concert, performed admirably.  In this particular concert hall, all of their voices projected well and clear.  What left a strong impression on me was both the strength and clarity of the bassDashon Burton. 

The most mesmerizing movement of the cantata was none other than the first duet, where the singers are joined by an obliggato oboe.  In the past, the PBO oboes have also let me down before.  This night though, the part of the oboe landed on Gonzalo Ruiz, a player of much higher caliber.  The passages here could not have been played any sweeter and more expressive.  This could be one of the best live Baroque oboe playing I have heard so far.

For the second half of the program, the sole piece of music played here was the Magnificat, but not the D major BWV 243 version most common played, but the first original BWV 243a, in E flat major.  Other than being higher by a half-step, this version also has 4 additional laudes, or Christmastide songs, interspersed throughout the Magnificat.  These laudes are based on various Christmas stories, meaning a performance of the BWV 243a was designed specifically for Christmas.  By reworking the Magnficat into its D major form, Bach was able to perform this music year-round and not bound by the holiday. 

Like the two pieces in the first half, the Magnificat has a festive opening.  There is no doubt in my mind that Suzuki chose pieces of this particular nature and character for this concert.  If the point is to celebrate Christmas, might as well bring on the holiday spirit.  As with the first half, Suzuki's grasp of the music was spot-on, avoiding the possibility of sounding too solemn, while carefully not making it sound too lightweight.  It was a leadership that injected the right amount of energy and also provided sensuality.    

As with the cantata, I greatly enjoyed the vocal soloists' singing in the Magnificat, where they continued their excellence in the performance.  In the end, the Magnificat runs through a wide gamut of moods, from the festive, to the calm, to the agitated, to the sorrowful, to the sublime.  It shows Bach's mastery yet showing a side of him that is approachable.   

As custom, I waited in the backstage to meet Mr. Suzuki.  He was a nice fellow and signed my CD in Kanji (Chinese words) characters.  Another memorable night with an early music great.

 Maestro Suzuki

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