By Jeffrey Gantz
Just about any program of classical music written after his death, in 1750, could be called “Connected by Bach,’’ so pervasive is the master’s influence. But the quartet of pieces that Emmanuel Music assembled for its concert Saturday night at Emmanuel Church would have been welcome under any rubric: Bach’s own Orchestral Suite No. 4, John Corigliano’s “Fancy on a Bach Air,’’ Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks’’ Concerto, and then, for the second half of the evening, Stravinsky’s complete “Pulcinella’’ ballet.
The Bach was almost a novelty: Despite its array of oboes and percussion and brilliant trumpets, the Fourth Suite is more introverted than the Third (the one with the familiar “Air on the G String’’), and turns up less often in concert. Ryan Turner, artistic director of Emmanuel Music, placed the oboes on his right to underline the back-and-forth between oboes and strings. The performance had a buoyant energy, though the trumpets and percussion tended to obliterate the rest of the ensemble, and there could have been greater tempo contrast.
The “Air’’ in Corigliano’s “Fancy,’’ for solo cello, is the theme from Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,’’ which the composer selected because the piece had been commissioned by Robert and Judy Goldberg, a Boston couple, for their 25th wedding anniversary. Robert died of cancer before the anniversary, and “Fancy,’’ which Yo-Yo Ma premiered in Boston in 1997, became a celebration of his life. Inspired by Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, it’s seven minutes of evenly spaced, slow-moving notes with a brief burst of animation in the middle. Rafael Popper-Keizer balanced threnody and eulogy in an eloquent reading.
Stravinsky’s “Dumbarton Oaks’’ Concerto - another wedding-anniversary commission, named for the couple’s home in the Georgetown neighborhood of Washington - borrows from the opening three-note motif of Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto’’ No. 3. It has a “Petrouchka’’-like bustle, and the motor never stops running. Here it sounded oddly soft-edged.
“Pulcinella’’ was more successful. Stravinsky’s 1920 “ballet in one act with song’’ is better known from its various suites. This was the original 40-minute work, whose story line details the romantic misadventures of the beak-nosed Neapolitan commedia dell’arte figure. Here too there were plummy, overripe spots in the sound picture (perhaps Emmanuel Church’s acoustic wasn’t ideal for this program), and the Gavotte, like the one in the Bach suite, might have been more stately. But the whole was a raucous, robust treat, with dramatic contributions from mezzo-soprano Katherine Growdon, tenor Charles Blandy, and bass-baritone Dana Whiteside.