Bach Aria Soloists – Letters at the Library – KC Star


Delving into the private correspondence of famous composers, the Bach Aria Soloists gave an intimate, engaging concert for their “Notes & Letters” program Saturday night. The ambiance and acoustics of Kirk Hall suited the show, hosted by the Kansas City Public Library.

BAS core members Elizabeth Suh Lane (violin), Elisa Williams Bickers (harpsichord) and Sarah Tannehill Anderson (soprano) were joined by Sascha Groschang (cello) and Mark Schwader (actor).

The performance correlated excerpted readings with musical selections. Funny, pleading, heartfelt, magnanimous — these examples of loquacious long hand gave background not only into the artists’ state of mind and technical workings, but of society’s formality and reserve in these valued communications.

Working chronologically from the Baroque era into the Classical, they began with Barbara Strozzi, Bickers reading from her florid dedications to patrons full of humble, mellifluous compliments. Florid, too, were the selections and Tannehill Andreson sounded delightful, with an easy resonance and delivery to the ornamented lines.

Schwader joined them onstage for an account of the apparently dagger-toting Johann Sebastian Bach’s tussle with a bassoonist he allegedly insulted. Using a humorous German accent during dialogue, it was an amusing anecdotal introduction to the portly be-wigged Kapellmeister we recognize from portraits and intricate counterpoint, countered with selected arrangements from Bach’s “Inventions and Sinfonias,” featuring Suh Lane. In another letter, Bach bragged of his musical family and angled for a different job, followed with a beautiful and stately aria “Bete Aber Auch Dabei.”

Switching to an Italian accent, Schwader recounted the exacting performance notes from Alessandro Scarlatti to introduce the pulsing figures in the aria “Vinto Sono,” before moving onto an account of his son, Domenico, a virtuosic keyboardist, whose Sonata in C Major Bickers’ exemplified with delicate and precise playing.

George Frideric Handel’s letter to his brother was delivered practically in tears, with the magnificent aria “Credete al mio dolore,” somber and beautiful, and wonderfully highlighting the combination of timbres in this ensemble.

Extended passages from Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s letters revealed a giddy young man passionate, prodigious, and effusively unselfconscious, explaining his compositional method in one letter and his need for a wife in another. Bickers played a lovely Sonata in F Major and was a responsive partner to Suh Lane in Mozart’s sprightly Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Keyboard.

Schwader rendered a love note from Mozart to his wife with a blushing panache, signing off by smacking air kisses—“mm-mm-Mozart!”—the four musicians completing the concert with the aria “Dal Tuo Gentil Sembiante,” a lively, ornamented work of extended melismas and vibrant trills: a fine finale for a thoughtful and enjoyable performance.