Sunday, 21 February 2016

Ms. Words for Fun and Profit

I was standing on the sidewalk in the cold talking shop with a Mexican journalist this week in St. John's.  At one point in the conversation I indicated quotation marks by curling my fingers in the air.  He grinned and I said, "Ah you like my mitten marks".   And then in unison we added "just couldn't resist the alliteration".  We burst into laughter.

We had been talking about one of my writing assignments – a review of a concert that I was very much looking forward to by Duo Concertante.  Today that review runs in the on-line version of The Telegram newspaper and will be in print tomorrow.  As always, the assignment turned out differently than I expected.

We'll Get Bach To You
Duo Concertante
D.F. Cook Recital Hall, Friday, 19 February 2016

The celebratory nature of the concert We'll Get Back To You, which launched the 2 CD set of Bach sonatas by Duo Concertante on Friday night, was muted by the sad news of the death of composer Cliff Crawley.  As a result both mood and programme were altered reflecting the deep impact of Crawley's involvement with the careers of Nancy Dahn and Tim Steeves, who are the halves of Duo Concertante.  Over years and more than thirty compositions ranging from show tunes to classical, Crawley had crafted music that highlighted the trademark of Duo Concertante, where the piano and violin equally support each other. 

Crawley was more than a composer, he was a collaborator and in fact when It Takes Two was launched in 2009 Nancy Dahn remarked to me that the CD could have been titled It Takes Three.  When I asked Cliff about what it was like to compose for the Duo he responded, "It's wonderful, they can do anything I ask!"  So, it was a bittersweet echo to hear Tim Steeves remark from the stage that, "Cliff Crawley could do anything –taking music from various genres…and always making it sound like his own."  In particular, when the last notes of Crawley's arrangement of the traditional folk song The Lark evaporated the silence was moving.
Nancy Dahn (violin) and Tim Steeves (piano) are the
 two halves of Duo Concertante.

Still, somber was vanquished with sabers – Khachaturian's flashy Sabre Dance, which meant the programme went into intermission with high spirits.  Similarly, the evening concluded with the virtuosic Sonate composed by Ravel.  The concert was still true to its name by presenting two full, luscious Bach sonatas: The Sonata in A major, BWV 1015 and the Sonata in E major, BWV 1016.

Duo Concertante's new release offers six J.S. Bach sonatas, some of which are rarely performed.  The selection of sonatas demonstrate the wide scope of Bach's creative genius and the appeal of his music– from organic, beautiful melodies to intellectual and rigorously structured pieces that sparkle with ornamentation.

J.S. Bach (1685-1750) composed during the Baroque musical era and it has been popular in the past few decades to play his music on Baroque instruments in a bid towards authenticity.  Tafelmusik, based in Toronto, is widely known for that distinctive warm sound that period instruments and bows strung with gut produce.  Duo Concertante has bucked that trend and chosen to interpret Bach on contemporary violin and keyboard but in a way that is historically informed.  The consequence is that even those of us who are neither musicians nor musical scholars can come away with an enhanced experience of Bach's musical language–for instance, to me, that the harmonies may be sweet but are never sentimental.

The liner notes of the CD are done in a refreshing interview style rather than an arid erudite exercise.  Paul Rice asks the right questions and unlocks the insights of Tim Steeves and Nancy Dahn.  He asks them, for example, to contrast the making of their Beethoven CD with this Bach undertaking.  With such efforts, combined with memorable performances, Duo Concertante is building a bridge of accessibility for a wider audience of classical music.

Gloria Hickey


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