It's sweet 16 for Madison's Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, and Saturday's performance at Overture Center's Playhouse was a party with birthday cake, cash bar and some jaw-dropping-good playing.
The concert was part of a series of celebration programs with titles such as "C'mon, Baby, Light My Fire" and "Rebel With a Cause." Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes, co-founders of the progressive chamber group, titled this concert "The Heat Is On." It began with the gentle warmth of Mozart's "Flute Quartet in D Major," K. 285.
Mozart composed the quartet while on the road to Paris in 1777. A physician with the Dutch East India Company commissioned it, and Mozart wasn't going to lose the chance to make a little money. From the Allegro to the Rondeau, the players' rapport with one another was impressive and held together nicely even through the ritardandos and accelerandos. Cellist Parry Karp and violist David Harding provided a solid but delicate base for the soloists, and Jutt's flute solo in the Adagio had warmth and soul.
The tinder caught fire with "Piedra en la piedra" ("Stone against stone") for flute and marimba, composed by Ricardo Lorenz. Percussive, breathy tones exploded from Stephanie Jutt's flute. At other times the flute was lyrical and sinuous as Dane Richeson's marimba bathed the air with sunny rhythms. Jason Bahling's video images danced in the background. Since "Piedra" is held together by texture and rhythm, it falls on the ear as bursts of energy rather than the smooth thematic progression of Mozart's quartet. It's fresh, daring and difficult, but the players pulled it off fabulously.
Ravel's "Tzigane" ("Gypsy") is a rhapsody for violin and piano. Violinist Katarzyna Bryla cascaded sparks in her first season with Bach Dancing and Dynamite with this piece of technical bravura. "Tzigane" began with passionate melancholy, and Bryla's violin growled dark energy. While I would have liked more abandon in this section, her playing in the wild, dance-'til-you-drop segment was electric. Neither she nor pianist Randall Hodgkinson missed a beat of the technical ABCs, and their lyrical playing captured the French delicacy that made this work quintessentially Ravel.
The players ended with Brahms' hardy "Piano Quartet in A Major," Op. 26. The Quartet has serious moments, but overall it is blissful with dance motifs and optimism. As usual, Sykes did a splendid job of maintaining a healthy tempo throughout, and his sensitive piano playing brought to life the romantic side of this heady, intellectual work.
The audience was in awe of the skill and passion evidenced in Saturday's concert. Several curtain calls brought the musicians back before admiring fans. Chamber playing certainly doesn't get much better than this.