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A New Work's Old Feel

Music review: 'To the Nightingale' refracts baroque motifs through a 20th century lens.

June 24, 1998|CHRIS PASLES | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Add Tania Gabrielle French's intriguing "To the Nightingale" to the list of premieres offered up by the enterprising Baroque Music Festival Corona del Mar.

The work, heard Monday at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church, is an accomplished setting of a poem by Anne Finch, Countess of Winchilsea (1661-1720). The seven-minute piece, scored for tenor, violin and organ, fits into the festival because it refracts baroque rhythms, motifs and idiosyncrasies through a 20th century lens. It also on occasion admits images of Bartok and ethnic music.

Unfortunately, the poem was not printed in the otherwise useful program booklet for this second installment of the five-part series. This was a pity because it was difficult to make out all the words.

Still, it was clear from intonation and musical themes that the composer has set the text with inventive attention to its lyric and dramatic content.

The piece, originally scored for tenor, violin and piano, was performed this spring at a private fund-raiser for the festival. (Director Burton Karson played the piano on that occasion.) The work was rescored for organ for its first public performance to fit the organ recital format that has become the traditional second program of the festival.

The work was commissioned by benefactors Jerry and Bobbi Dauderman to honor Karson's 18 years as music director of the festival. French took bows at the end of the performance.

The players were Mark Goodrich, who sang with a sturdy, dark-toned tenor; violinist Clayton Haslop (French's husband); and organist Thomas Annand, who dominated the rest of the program.

The organ at St. Michael's appears to be a modest one, although the console suggests it has a range of color and power insufficiently exploited by Annand.

At least he made consistent choices.

A native of Nova Scotia and director of music at St. Andrew's Church in Ottawa since 1992, Annand appeared to be conservative in use of stops and dynamics.

The virtues of this approach include a meditative intensity that certainly suited Bach's Chorale Prelude, "Allein Gott in der Hoh sie Ehr," BWV 662; as well as the slow movements of Johann Gottfied Walther's Concerto in B minor (after Joseph Meck); and Bach's Trio Sonata in C minor, BWV 526.

The danger is a monotony of shading and outline, which Annand did not wholly escape in other parts of the Bach Trio Sonata or Buxtehude's Praeludium in G minor, BuxWV 149.

*

Still, it was a pleasure to hear Pachelbel's Variations on "Was Gott tut, das ist wolhgetan" instead of his ubiquitous Canon.

In the program notes, Annand is quoted as calling the fugue theme of Bach's Prelude and Theme in D, BWV 532 (which closed the program), "the silliest fugue subject ever composed."

Coming as it does after one of Bach's most harmonically extravagant and adventurous cadences to close the Prelude, the fugue theme does raise speculation of what Bach could have been thinking. Maybe he just threw in the towel. The theme consists of two parts--a stuck-in-place whirligig followed by a shuddering echo. It sounds so remarkably trivial--even as Bach repeats and repeats it in grander ways--it would be hard, if not impossible, to refute Annand's description.

* Baroque Music Festival Corona del Mar continues through Sunday. $25-$30. (949) 760-7887.

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