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  Bach in Spokane, 2004
  Faust, Wjuniski perform with masterful skill
Spokesman-Review, February 8, 2004

J.S. Bach didn't "invent" music any more than Michelangelo invented fresco or Shakespeare invented drama. But those arts were never the same after those artists came on the scene. Last week's concerts of the Northwest Bach Festival showed why.

On Friday, flutist Michael Faust and harpsichordist Ilton Wjuniski brought both high spirits and masterful skill to music by Bach's French and Italian contemporaries and predecessors, along with two works by Bach's sons and a sonata by King Frederick the Great of Prussia.
Faust and Wjuniski have more fun with the music they play than almost any performers I can name. But they never trivialize any music they perform.
The lightning speed and clarity they brought to the finales of sonatas by Tomaso Albinoni and C.P.E. Bach had to be heard to be believed. And the poise with which Wjuniski played the endlessly decorated melodies in dances by D'Angelbert was quite ravishing.

Then came the first encore. The pair played part of the slow movement and finale of J.S. Bach's Sonata in C major. Everything that came before was shown in a new light. Bach took those strong Italian bass lines, originally crafted to give thrust to dramatic arias, and he took the embellished melodies derived from lute playing by the French. But he subjected both to a refining fire that made what he wrote seem absolutely inevitable.

Saturday's concert at First Presbyterian Church had Gunther Schuller conducting performances of two of Bach's orchestral masterpieces, two church cantatas (one of them only a torso), plus one of C.P.E. Bach's finest flute concertos.

Faust, flutist Bruce Bodden and violinist Kelly Farris were featured soloists in Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No.4. Schuller paced the fast movements of this piece at an unhurried pace that allowed the audience to appreciate the conversational musical dialogue between the two flutes.

Farris tore through the thousands of fast notes that make up sections of the violin part with something of the glee of a child dashing crazily through a well-mannered garden party.
Spokane singers Darnelle Preston, Angela Hunt and John Frankhauser joined visiting tenor Fritz Robertson in "Christ lag in Todesbanden."
Whether it was acoustical programs or lack of rehearsal times, the soloists frequently lagged slightly behind the orchestra.

The evening's chief delight in a program mainly devoted to Papa Bach was Michael Faust's superb performance of Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel's Flute Concerto in D minor. This is one of that neglected composer's finest pieces.

Schuller brought a celebratory flair to Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 4, emphasizing Bach's skill at orchestral. Schuller exploited Bach's sharp contrasts of sonority of strings, reed instruments and brasses played off against each other. And this conductor's obvious zeal in differentiating shades of loud and soft brought a color and vitality so often missing in performances of Bach.


Bach concerts have refreshing eclecticism
Travis Rivers
Spokesman-Review, February 4, 2004

Bach had some competition this week.
Sunday's Bach Festival performance at The Davenport Hotel ran against the Super Bowl, and Tuesday's vied with Lynyrd Skynyrd's opening a block down the street at The Big Easy.

The three events don't summon quite the same audience, of course. Bach held his own with a full house Sunday in the Marie Antoinette Room, and with a respectable turnout there Tuesday.

Perhaps the great attraction of the Northwest Bach Festival is lack of dogmatism.

Performing music of the 18th century can bring out a one-way-and-one-way-only fervor in some musicians. But the combination of local and visiting instrumentalists heard playing the music of J.S. Bach and his sons Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night had a refreshing eclecticism _ modern instruments were played comfortably alongside historical ones.

The players responded to the 18th-century styles of the various Bachs with the same convincing enthusiasm they might bring to music by Frederic Chopin or Elliott Carter.

Flutist Michael Faust set the tone of these two concerts Sunday with an eloquent performance of the elder Bach's Partita in A minor for unaccompanied flute.

This is a fiendishly difficult work, going far beyond the usual technical demands of flute-playing in Bach's day. But Faust made the work speak easily and naturally to an audience that had probably not experienced the flute played without the backing of a keyboard or ensemble.

Another high point of Sunday's concert was Cheryl Carney's playing of Bach's C major Cello Suite. Here is a work every cellist studies. But few succeed bringing such tonal warmth and rich lyricism to it.

Carney's symphony colleague, Kelly Farris, showed his accustomed assurance in his reading of the B minor Partita for solo violin.

Harpsichordist Ilton Wjuniski treated the audience to Bach's audacious Suite in E-flat major in an exceptional close to Sunday's program. The second movement of this suite had harmonies that seem to grow dizzy and move dangerously away from the "normal" chords we associate with older music reeling toward harmonies that seemed closer to Wagner or late Liszt.

It was easy for those who heard both concerts to see where Bach's sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel and Wilhelm Friedemann, picked up their own harmonic daring.

Tuesday's concert explored their music alongside music of their little brother Johann Christian as well as a Trio Sonata by their father.

Again at Tuesday's performance, Spokane musicians familiar to symphony audiences _ violinist Tracy Dunlop, violists Nicholas Carper and Jeannette Wee-Yang, cellist Helen Byrne and oboist Keith Thomas -- appeared with Faust and Wjuniski.

The slow movement of C.P.E. Bach's Sonata in B-flat major for flute and harpsichord featured Faust and Wjuniski in a dialogue of sighs and brooding followed by a perky march that would have done credit to a royal parade ground.

The oldest of the Bach sons, Wilhelm Friedemann, was described by contemporaries as a moody fellow. And his Duetto for Two violas, admirably played by Carper and Wee-Yang reflected the ups and downs of his temperament. The fireside glow of the violas' sound was especially suited to the lamenting slow movement, but it sparkled surprisingly in the fast opening and closing movements, too.

The highlight of Tuesday's performance _ for this listener, anyway -- was the delectable Quintet for Flute, Oboe, Violin, Viola and Basso Continuo by Johann Christian Bach. The Quintet provided a rush of infectious good humor, high spirited rhythms and a stream of surprise shifts between loud and soft sections.

This composer was only 15 when his father died, so he represented the bridge between the older Bach's style and that of Haydn and Mozart. Johann Christian practically invented the symphonic approach to chamber music. It was a style that capitalizes on the interplay of the sonorities of the different instruments in an orchestral way.

The players added a zing to the evening's end, rewarding sustained applause by repeating the Quintet's finale as an encore, played faster and underlining its humorous contrasts.


Flourishes, flair mark first Bach festival concert
Spokesman-Review, January 31, 2004
Travis Rivers

Organist James David Christie matched a virtuoso's flair with a scholar's knowledge in Friday's opening concert of the Northwest Bach Festival.

Following intermission, Christie was joined by flutist Michael Faust performing an unusual and effective arrangement of Bach's Organ Sonata No.1.

Faust alternated playing fast movements on a modern silver flute and the subdued slow movement on a wooden flute. The contrast between the bright sound of the silver flute and the mellower sounds produced by the wooden instrument brought another dimension to a work well known to organists and their audiences.