The matinée concert at the Peller Estates Winery was a pleasant affair where the capacity crowd from toddlers to octogenarians were treated to a quartet of works all anchored by a North American-made harpsichord (David Jensen currently builds instruments to order in Bloomington, Indiana).
Cécile Desrosiers launched the expanded program with a solo suite by Bach. It was the perfect entrée for those in the Founder’s Hall who may have been enjoying their first sampling of a “plucked” keyboard. The opening “Allemande” was pleasantly eloquent followed by a peppy “Courante” that, once settled, moved forward with energy.
The charming “Sarabande” travelled at an appropriately leisurely pace if somewhat occasionally disjointed. Similarly, the sprightly “Gavotte” would have benefited from a micro-second more between phrases in order to clarify its punchy lines.
The “Bourée,” like the products of the proprietor, improved with each successive repetition, where the “Loure” suffered initially from a rhythmic ambiguity that hampered its thoughtful momentum.
CBC aficionados in the audience smiled in happy recognition of the final “Gigue” whose popular rendition by Moe Koffman a few decades back brought the master’s music to thousands of new ears: its underlying beat may change but the compelling tune can remain “as is.”
As he did for last year’s festival, Douglas Miller took the stage to perform a flute sonata by Jean-Marie Leclair, better known for his violin sonatas and murder (apparently at the hands of his nephew) than his wind music. In the “Adagio,” Miller brought a warm, deceptively carefree approach to the themes, moving as effortlessly as the composer, who earned much of his keep as a dancer.
The light and fluffy “Allegro” was notable for the interplay between keyboard and flute. The final movement meandered happily along its slight course but, surprisingly, seemed to slip away from its practitioners who, nonetheless, regrouped for a sturdy finish.
Atis Bankas put Stephen Marvin’s copy of an English Baroque bow through its paces, producing the concert’s finest moments in his wonderfully understated reading of the B Minor Sonata. It was a study of control, featuring impressive entries from “nowhere,” finely balanced double stops and a very discreet use of vibrato. Desrosiers provided solid support with the patiently-flowing “Andante”—a highlight that gently soothed the young even as it gave their parents comfort.
Festivals everywhere are unpredictable both in programming and personnel: summer travel, family crises and communication foul-ups cause many concerts to come off slightly different than advertised. Niagara Symphony principal cellist Gordon Cleland provided the solution to one such problem as he took the basso continuo role that had previously been assigned to Teimour Sadykhov in C.P.E. Bach’s C Minor Trio Sonata.
A greater presence by Cleland would have aided the balance in the opening “Adagio” where the melodists were content with sailing through the fascinating harmonic excursion rather than digging deeper into its landscape.
“A little more moderato” would have helped the middle movement stay on the rails, but by now the balance was considerably improved. The “Vivace” had more saunter than sizzle. Still it was delivered in an amiable fashion that featured clever musical chatter between Bankas and Miller, leaving the audience buoyed from the artists’ skill. JWR