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The evening began with a near-capacity audience milling about in the lobby of Brevard College’s Porter Center fifteen minutes ahead of the scheduled time of a Brevard Music Center chamber concert. The doors opened, the concertgoers and student attendees filed in, and there were excited conversations among both constituencies. Expectations were high for an evening of concertos by Johann Sebastian Bach and Antonio Vivaldi.
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Clavier and Strings (S. 1052) is among his finest. For this work, Andrés Cárdenes occupied the concertmaster’s seat, cuing entries and provided direction by occasionally rising from his leader’s chair. In a sense this was symbolic: After eleven years as concertmaster, Cárdenes has just left the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in order to concentrate on conducting, solo work and chamber music. The keyboard soloist was faculty member Bruce Murray, who sat facing the audience at a Steinway pianoforte with the cover removed.
Early in the opening Allegro movement, the violas seemed to be slightly out of sync with the soloist but recovered rapidly. Meanwhile, Mr. Murray was beginning what proved to be an exemplary demonstration of how to substitute a modern piano for the original harpsichord and yet keep true to Bach’s intentions. A harpsichord has no soft pedal and no sustaining pedal, so Bach did not expect them. Crescendos and diminuendos are not possible on a harpsichord, which has only “terraced dynamics.” In the Adagio, Mr. Murray “terraced” the dynamics with a medium depression of the soft pedal and used short depressions of the sustaining pedal only to alter the harmonic content of some notes. In the two outer movements, Mr. Murray used no pedal at all. Bach’s rapid runs were delivered smoothly, with the melodic line slightly voiced above the other lines. Towards the end of his life, J.S. Bach was captivated by the new fortepiano instruments, and I believe he would have been pleased by Murray’s use of the Steinway.
After intermission, a continuo harpsichord was added to the fourteen-member student string orchestra (4 first violins and 4 second violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos and 1 bass). Mr. Cárdenes acted as both conductor and violin soloist for the four Antonio Vivaldi concertos for violin and orchestra that are entitled The Four Seasons. Along with a handful of others, these stand out amidst the over five hundred concertos that Vivaldi wrote in his lifetime. The four concertos, twelve movements in all, were performed without interruptions for applause.
This was a conventional rendering of the work, which I mean to be a compliment to Mr. Cárdenes and the orchestra. Who would want an idiosyncratic rendering? Cárdenes was at ease in the very challenging solo role, a tribute to his endurance as well as his singing tone. The orchestra distinguished itself throughout, but especially with its pianissimos in the Largo in “Spring” and the Adagio molto in “Autumn.” Passages in which the solo violin interacts with individual players were heart-warming. This ensemble worked so well together that it seems odd to single out an individual musician from among the fourteen, but the dialogues between violin and cello showed principal cellist Shea Kole to be a player to watch out for in the future. A graduate of Eastman School of Music and the University of Ohio who played professionally last winter in Mexico, Mr. Kole linked remarkably with Mr. Cárdenes in the Allegro pastorale of “Spring,” the Presto of “Summer” and the Allegro of “Autumn.”
Sometimes anticipations are fully realized, and on Tuesday they were. The evening ended with conductor and solo violinist Andrés Cárdenes being called back on stage five times to have the orchestra receive well-deserved standing ovations.