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A festival in full swing at Fredonia’s Opera House

Grant Cooper conducts the 24th annual Bach & Beyond Baroque music festival.

Musical concerti, in various forms, dominated the second evening’s program of this year’s Bach and Beyond Baroque Music Festival, held at the historic 1891 Fredonia Opera House. Artistic Director and Conductor Grant Cooper chose to feature works written predominantly by Italian contemporaries of the German composer Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750).

The concert opened with the Concerto for Oboe, Op. 9, No. 2 written by Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1750), performed by Cheryl Bishkoff and the International Baroque Soloists. Bishkoff’s powerful tone easily carried over the ensemble and throughout the theatre, with her beautiful contrast in performance character highlighting significant aspects of the musical phrases, particularly in the first movement. In general, Cooper lead the ensemble in an unobtrusive way, choosing to conduct larger shapes and gestures at times, allowing the musicians a chance to embody the music, as opposed to reacting to a conductor’s every impulse.

The first half of the program was concluded with a performance of J.S. Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord No. 6 in G major, BWV 1019. This five-movement work featured violinist Julie Leven and harpsichordist Alan Giambattista. The presentation was truly an equal partnership, rather than a soloist with supporting accompaniment. The musicians’ sense of timing was acute; in fact, this was a rare listening experience for me, one in which, at times, I was unable to completely distinguish between the two instruments. Leven’s nuanced phrasing was marvelous, seeming to blend effortlessly into the harpsichord’s sound, and Giambattista’s attention to Bach’s relentless counterpoint was superb. The audience grew slightly restless during the middle movements, but the rousing Allegros that framed the composition were definite crowd-pleasers.

After intermission, Bishkoff returned to the stage as soloist in the Concerto for Oboe in G minor, I 47 by Giovanni Platti (1697-1763). Platti, whose style transitioned from a Baroque-dominated aesthetic to that of the newer galant style of the early Classical period, composed with significant command over harmonic and melodic devices of the time, while occasionally relying-perhaps too heavily-on sequential repetition. In spite of the latter fact, however, I felt this concerto was truly a delight, with its use of surprising syncopations and unexpected turns of phrase.

The Platti was followed by music of Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713), specifically his Concerto Grosso, Op. 6, No. 7, with violinists Julie Leven and Boel Gidholm joined by cellist Bryan Eckenrode to form an intimate concertino.

Cheryl Bishkoff plays her oboe.

The evening came to a conclusion with a youthful performance of Vivaldi’s Concerto Grosso, Op. 3, No. 11. Epitomizing the definition of a prolific composer, Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) is widely regarded to be a master of the Baroque concerto. Violinist Jennifer Wood joined Leven and Eckenrode to form the work’s soli ensemble, with support from the International Baroque Soloists in collaboration with the Chautauqua Regional Youth Symphony (Bryan Eckenrode, director).

On the whole, this was a lovely evening of collaboration, communication, and musical commitment. The palpable energy of the performances left me looking forward to the unorthodox matinee conclusion of this year’s festival.

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