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BDDS: Reinecke, Bach, Poulenc, Schumann

Reinecke: Sonata, Op. 167
J. S. Bach: Coffee Cantata, BWV 211
Poulenc: Flançailles pour rire
Schumann: Piano Quintet in E-Flat Major, Op. 44

Stephanie Jutt, flute
Kathryn Kamp, soprano
Erich Buchholz, tenor
Timothy Jones, bass
Frank Almond, violin
Suzanne Beia, violin
Sally Chisholm, viola
Parry Karp, cello
Jeffrey Sykes, piano


The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opened its current Madison season at Music Hall Saturday evening with the first of three varied programs combining chamber music performance and whimsy, in a tradition it's now fit to call "time-honored," for the programs all somehow involve the number 10, the number of seasons this unusual group has existed. The house was packed, and as customary, founders Stephanie Jutt (flute) and Jeffrey Sykes (piano) enlisted some first-rate musician-accomplices to give the program variety and weight.

19th-century repertory for flute and piano, Jutt and Sykes told the audience, consists of more or less one work, the Sonata, Op. 167 by Carl Reinecke. Written about 1885, this four-movement piece draws heavily on the styles of Mendelssohn and Schumann without achieving the technical or musical excitement of either. Called "Undine," the sonata's program invokes the impossible flirtation of that sea-sprite with mortal love. Its four movements range from skittish, evanescent froth to stormy turbulence and back, ending pretty much as it began. Reinecke's writing is for the most part sweet but unnourishing, long on exposition but short on solid substance. The performance, I thought, was like that too: rather on the surface, facile without revealing much real content.

A candidate for the most unusual BDDS trick yet came next, a staging as a modern child-parent minidrama of J.S. Bach's Coffee Cantata, BWV 211, scored for soprano, tenor and bass soloists accompanied by flute, strings and continuo. There's very little music by Bach that can fittingly be called weird, but the sometimes tortured vocal lines of this cantata make a close approach. This very cleverly directed and costumed dramatization of a father's vain attempt to get his teenage daughter to give up coffee-drinking benefitted from an updated English translation by Sykes -- think Walkman, cell phones, and rebellious kids wearing lots of leather -- got a decent performance in the hands of tenor Erich Buchholz (narrator, suitor, cafe server), bass Timothy Jones (father Schlendrian) and soprano Kathryn Kamp (daughter Lisa). It was a lot of fun and I thought it deserved this year's originality award.

After intermission came six songs for soprano by Poulenc, Flançailles pour rire ("Whimsical Betrothal") on texts by Louise de Vilmorin. They are wonderful pieces indeed, but on this occasion were not well served by Kamp's barely intelligible French and a voice with almost no chest tone, though it was possibly Sykes' best playing.

The evening's most exciting music was Schumann's Piano Quintet in E-Flat Major, Op. 44, performed by Sykes, violinists Frank Almond and Suzanne Beia, violist Sally Chisholm and cellist Parry Karp. Musically amazing and fiercely difficult to play, the work got a very good but not quite top-level performance, as though there had not been quite enough rehearsal. Nevertheless, there were passages of wonderful lyricism and brilliant, flashing bravura.

The remaining two programs, to follow this coming weekend and the next, feature music by Johann Strauss, Berg, Schoenberg, Telemann, Chen Yi, Beethoven, Rorem and de Falla. Each program will be given in Music Hall on the UW campus Saturday at 7:30 p.m. and in Spring Green's Taliesin Hillside Theater Sunday at 2:30 and 7:30 p.m.

In recent years, BDDS has been expanding its outreach efforts both in Madison and in surrounding communities. The group will conduct master classes July 26 (1:30 p.m.) as part of the week-long regional competition of the National Foundation for the Advancement of the Arts hosted by the UW School of Music. In addition, the second program will be offered at the Amundson Community Center in Cambridge on Friday, July 27 at 7:00 p.m, while the third program will be given at the Meriter Retirement Center on Friday, August 3 at 7:30 p.m.

Isthmus, July, 2001
Copyright 2001 Jess Anderson

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