Known for its artful programming and world class players, the Chameleon Arts Ensemble offered the Sunday afternoon Shalin Liu audience a Father’s day tribute to one of the fathers of the Western canon: J.S. Bach. With a shifting number of players, the ensemble brought us works of this prolific parent and three of his sons: Wilhelm Friedemann, Johann Christian, and Carl Philipp Emanuel.
Lauding Chameleon’s Artistic Director, Deborah Boldin, Rockport Music’s Artistic Director David Deveau joked that the program’s unofficial title should be “Who’s your daddy?” After the crowd erupted in laughter, he allowed that the program actually does ask questions of parenting, highlighting how J. S.’s sons slowly moved away from dad’s Baroque to their own Classical.
Written during his tenure as music director and organist at the Dresden Church, W.F. Bach’s Sinfonia in D Minor F65 for the Gradual of the Mass followed the well-defined rules for such a work in the church setting. As such it was separated into two sections. The Adagio, while tastefully rendered, didn’t move me. However, its stasis prepared me to enjoy the Allegro e forte, which drew me in for a wild ride. In the fugue of at least four voices, Chameleon made a moving journey of W.F. Bach’s sensitive polyphonic writing. Violinists Sean Lee and Eunae Koh, an effortless pair, continued the rapid, whirring counterpoint while the texture thinned and the continuo dropped out. Flutists Bolden and Sooyun Kim also matched perfectly.
Unfortunately, J.C. Bach’s Quintet in F Major for oboe, violin, viola, cello and keyboard, Op. 22, No. 2 lacked the exuberance of his brother’s work, and the performers didn’t quite breathe enough life into it. Oboist Nancy Dimock contributed a particularly translucent and precise sound. The best moment came in a luscious and emotive duet in the slow second movement between violinist Robyn Bollinger and the harpsichordist Sergey Schepkin.
After the ranks returned for J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 5 in D Major, Boldin and Bollinger made a wonderfully emotional concerto pair. Schepkin’s virtuosity blazed with electricity; finger-fulls of notes, runs up and down the range, overwhelmed with excitement and control. The audience could not contain their applause at the end of the movement. He showed strength again in the second through keen sensitivity in note placement. All harpsichordists must toy with time and space in order to achieve expressive depth; all of Schepkin’s such choices felt inevitable. His torrents of notes grabbed the spotlight in the last movement.
Lee explained that C.P.E. Bach’s Trio Sonata in C Minor for two violins and continuo gave distinct characteristics to each soloist. With his warm and poised personality, Lee took the role of joyful “Sanguineus,” while Bollinger essayed the dramatic “Melancholicus.”
The long pauses between the two characters’ melodic statements underlined Emmanuel’s quasi-theatricality. After a few times, though, the cutesy contrasting of emotional expression and tempi began to feel predictable. However, the work eventually reached points where the “seams” disappeared, where the composer more successfully wove together the two contrasting strands.
The second movement allowed us to admire Rafael Popper-Keizer’s remarkably sturdy cello technique. He handled some remarkably rapid continuo with expression and poise. In an exhilarating rendition of the light-hearted character, Lee sculpted timbre and dynamics to marvelous effect. Captivating contrasts then spoke as engaging storytelling.
Lee stole the show for Brandenburg No. 4 in G Major. The prominent violin part allowed him to let loose daring, fire and intensity with perfect articulation in some incredibly difficult passages
The crowd rose to their feet within seconds of the ending, and the Chameleon Ensemble reentered for three well-deserved bows. Smiles from on stage and in the audience testified to an exquisite afternoon.