Bach Intime: Four Faces of Bach

Chamber Music Kelowna presented internationally renowned musicians, violinist Mark Fewer and harpsichordist Hank Knox in a brilliant and spirited performance of four of Johann Sebastian Bach’s six Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord on Friday evening.  They chose these particular sonatas to present four faces of Bach: the G major sonata for the youthful Bach, C minor for the polymath fiddling, E major for the “heart-on-sleeve” melodies, and A major for the joyous Bach.

J.S. Bach’s music, the pinnacle of the Baroque era (1600-1750), is timeless and notable for the fact that it set the standard for future generations of composers. During the years Bach spent in Cöthen as Kapellmeister he wrote prodigious amounts of instrumental music including the 6 cello suites, the 6 sonatas and partitas for solo violin, the Brandenburg concertos, The Well-Tempered Clavier, and the sonatas featured in Friday night’s concert.

Mark Fewer played a modern violin strung with sheep gut rather than the steel and aluminum strings of modern times and used a baroque bow which is lighter and bouncier than a modern bow. His amazing agility in bowing technique allowed for very light and quick movement in the faster passages while producing a beautifully textured warmth in the long melodious phrases in slower movements.

It was a pleasure to hear the virtuosic performance of harpsichordist Hank Knox, his hands moving rapidly in opposite directions in three-part counterpoint with the violin line, the harpsichord in these sonatas being an equal partner with the violin rather than a mere accompanist.  Bach wrote out the right hand of the keyboard part rather than merely providing a bass line with numbers to guide the keyboard player in improvisation. These 6 sonatas, which C.P.E Bach referred to as “Trios”, set the stage for the sonatas and piano trios of later composers such as Handel, Haydn and Beethoven.  Following the concert, the musicians were available for questions from the audience, making this truly a momentous evening of musical joy. 

Karen Krout is a violinist who moved to Kelowna in 2003 after retiring from her post as Assistant Concertmaster of the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra.  She taught at the Kelowna Community Music School until 2008 and played in the Okanagan Symphony Orchestra until 2011.