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American Bach Soloists present rare sounds

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From page A11 | February 26, 2013 | Leave Comment

Elizabeth Blumenstock will play the viola d'amore Monday March 4 at Davis Community Church. Courtesy photo

Check it out

Who: American Bach Soloists

When: 7 p.m. Monday, March 4, with a 6 p.m. pre-concert talk by musician Deborah Nagy

Where: Davis Community Church, 412 C St.

Tickets: $22-$60 general, $20-$55 seniors and students; www.americanbach.org, 415-621-7900

Two Baroque-era instruments that are rarely encountered in the present day — the viola d’amore and the oboe d’amore — will be given the star treatment by the American Bach Soloists on Monday, March 4, at Davis Community Church, in a program featuring music by J.S. Bach, Antonio Vivaldi and George Frideric Handel.

The viola d’amore was a well-known instrument in the 1700s — Antonio Vivaldi played one, and taught the instrument as well; J.S. Bach, Heinrich Biber, Georg Philipp Telemann and Josef Haydn were among the 18th century composers who wrote for it. (Some 20th century composers, including Paul Hindemith and Sergei Prokofiev, occasionally called for the viola d’amore as well.)

Jeffrey Thomas, music director of the American Bach Soloists, describes the viola d’amore as “an instrument that shares many characteristics with the viol family, it had 12 (sometimes 14) strings: six (or seven) that are played, and six (or seven) ‘sympathetic’ strings located beneath the bowed (sometimes plucked) strings and fingerboard, providing resonance with those above.”

The viola d’amore also was a sight to behold, typically topped by an intricately carved head with the eyes covered by something like a rolled bandanna — representing love. Like the modern viola, the viola d’amore is pitched lower than a violin, and possesses something of a sweeter variant of the plaintive sound of the viola da gamba (which is the viol family’s counterpart to the modern cello, but with more strings).

Wolfgang Mozart’s father Leopold wrote that the viola d’amore sounded “especially charming in the stillness of the evening”; the concert will begin at 7 p.m.

The performance will include a concerto written by Vivaldi for the viola d’amore (D Major, RV 392), with Elizabeth Blumenstock as soloist. While local audiences know her as a violinist and concertmaster with the American Bach Soloists, she played a (modern four-string) viola during an early phase of her career. For this occasion, she will play a 12-string viola d’amore.

Also on the program will be a concerto by J.S. Bach — A Major, BWV 1055a — which, in the surviving version from Bach’s day, is scored for harpsichord. But many scholars believe that in all likelihood, Bach originally wrote the piece for oboe d’amore — a Baroque-era instrument that was pitched a minor third lower than the standard oboe. (Consequently, the oboe d’amore is longer than the standard oboe, with a pear-shaped bell at the bottom.) Deborah Nagy of the American Bach Soloists will be the soloist.

The program also will feature two choral works:

* The youthful “Dixit Dominus” by Handel, a psalm setting composed in 1708, when the composer was in his early 20s. Handel had arrived in Rome in 1706, and immersed himself in Italian opera and Italian church music of that era. According to Thomas, “(Handel) traveled to Italy to learn absorb everything he could about the Italian style, and in all practical terms mastered it more greatly than most of the Italian composers themselves. … (This) composition’s immediacy and captivating range of colors and dramatic effects belie its extreme difficulty.”

* “Beatus vir,” RV 597, by Vivaldi. For most of his career, Vivaldi composed for young female musicians at the Pio Ospedale della Pieta, a home for abandoned children in Venice, which hosted a highly regarded all-girl chorus, using older women to sing supportive bass parts on occasion.

” ‘Beatus vir’ is unusual (among Vivaldi’s works) in that it contains parts for solo bass singers,” said Thomas, adding that it is ”also unusual is the rather grand scale of the work, composed for two choruses and two orchestras. These factors indicate that it was probably written for a commission from outside Venice.”

Preceding the 7 p.m. performance will be a 6 p.m. talk by Nagy.

Tickets are $22-$60 general, $20-$55 for seniors and students, available at www.americanbach.org or 415-621-7900. Davis Community Church is at 412 C St. in downtown Davis.

— Reach Jeff Hudson at jhudson@davisenterprise.net or 530-747-8055.

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