Two light works, two masterpieces.
Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society capped its 2014 season with a program at the charming Stoughton Opera House on Saturday. The program presented two chamber-music masterpieces, interspersed with two light works.
The first was a set of three short pieces by the Argentinian composer Ángel Lasala (1914-2000), titled Poema del Pastor Coya, composed for flute and piano. The first two movements are dreamy and melodious, the third a boisterous dance. This was an ideal display piece for flutist Stephanie Jutt, with Randall Hodgkinson accompanying.
More frankly fluff was a "Fantasy on Themes" from The Wizard of Oz for piano four hands, by one William Hirtz. For this Hodgkinson joined Jeffrey Sykes. It was used for some visual clowning and was hardly to be taken seriously from the outset: better to see the movie itself.
But then there were the two masterpieces. The first was Maurice Ravel's fascinating Sonata for Violin and Cello. Substantial (four-movement) works for this spare scoring by major composers are very rare indeed. (There is one by Kodály.) Ever the consummate craftsman, Ravel liked to visit each chamber configuration only once, and in this case he showed a remarkable ear for exploring the range and character of each of the two instruments.
At times, especially in its scherzo, we can hear the same touches that fill Ravel's single String Quartet. Only in its slow movement (and maybe bits of its finale) did the two instruments suggest the concord of a normal "duet." Instead, for most of the work, it was as if each was a speaker talking about the same things, but in different ways, and at the same time. It's an extraordinary piece of original creativity. Violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau had its formidable technical demands in full control for a dazzling and superbly shaped performance.
After the intermission Sykes joined these two string players, with whom he constitutes his home group, the San Francisco Piano Trio. Their vehicle was the Trio in F minor, Op. 65, of Antonín Dvorák. This composer still is not sufficiently recognized as among the top masters of chamber music (along with Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms). His F-minor Trio is not as well known as the subsequent Op. 90, but it richly deserves wider advocacy, such as that so fervently lavished on it by our San Franciscans. Its wing movements are wonderful examples of intricate yet compelling construction. The scherzo is an intriguing venture in metric trickery, and the slow movement is a thing of melting beauty. With this, the Bach Dancing crew once again demonstrated its capacity for making us aware of what treasures the chamber-music literature has to offer.
The audience was undersized, perhaps due to the distractions of Rhythm & Booms. But the program will be repeated on Sunday, June 29, at Taliesin's Hillside Theater in Spring Green.