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February 7, 2013

Belated report on Pro Musica Rara's SuperBach Sunday

Pro Musica Rara had a great quarter-Bach for its concert on Super Bowl Sunday -- Johann Sebastian.

The early music/period instrument group has an annual tradition of presenting a wintry program scheduled around or, as it turned out this time, exactly on the day of the biggest football game of the year.

Billed as SuperBach Sunday, the concert typically has a unifying theme. This one, which drew a good-sized audience to Towson University's Center for the Arts, found a particularly interesting hook.

It centered on the court of Frederick the Great and featured one of Bach's monumental exercises in contrapuntal ingenuity, "The Musical Offering," based on a slithery theme supposedly devised by the king himself.

Hard to believe that the revered monarch who could come up with such a harmonically challenging melodic line was the same guy who wrote the mundane march played on the first half of Sunday's concert. I guess even supreme rulers have their off days.

Still, it was fun hearing that ditty and the more substantive and elegant Flute Sonata No. 9, not to mention the fine Flute Quartet No. 1 by Quantz, one of Frederick's favored composers.

The Quantz work, in particular, inspired ...

a smooth, colorful performance from flutist Sara Nichols, violinist Greg Mulligan, violist Sharon Pineo Meyer, harpsichordist Dongsok Shin and cellist and Pro Musica artistic director Allen Whear.

But the main event, in terms of music and music-making, came in the second half as those five players, plus violinist Ivan Stefanovic, offered the "Offering."

It's a long, complex work made up of more than as dozen individual components, so Whear sensibly provided introductory remarks to each, accompanied by quick demonstrations of things to listen out for. I often lose patience with chitchat during concerts, but Whear kept his remarks brief, enlightening and spiced with a wit drier than the driest vermouth.

A few frayed edges aside, the playing was quite nimble and expressive, with many a telling detail, such as Nichols' downright sensual phrasing at the start of the "Canon a 4."

She, Stefanovic, Whear and Shin did shining work in the darkly beautiful Trio Sonata that, as Whear pointed out, demonstrated that Bach could write as well for the heart as for the mind, all the while extracting still more mileage out of the royal theme.

And all six musicians rose to the challenge of the concluding Ricercar, tapping into the score's almost spiritual immersion into the intricacies of fugal thought.

Posted by Tim Smith at 10:09 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Clef Notes

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About Tim Smith
Born and raised in Washington, D.C., I couldn't help but develop a keen interest in politics, but music, theater and visual art also proved great attractions. Music became my main focus after high school. I thought about being a cocktail pianist, but I hated taking requests, so I studied music history instead, earning a B.A. in that field from Eisenhower College (Seneca Falls, N.Y.) and an M.A. from Occidental College (Los Angeles). I then landed in journalism. After freelancing for the Washington Post and others, I was classical music critic for the Sun-Sentinel in South Florida, where I also contributed to NPR. I've written for the New York Times, BBC Music Magazine and other publications, and I'm a longtime contributor to Opera News. My book, The NPR Curious Listener's Guide to Classical Music (Perigee, 2002), can be found on the most discerning remainder racks.

I joined the Baltimore Sun as classical music critic in 2000 and, in 2009, also became theater critic, giving me the opportunity to annoy a whole new audience. In 2010, my original Clef Notes blog expanded to encompass a theatrical component -- how could I resist calling it Drama Queens? I hope you'll find both sides of this blog coin worth exploring and reacting to; your own comments are always welcome and valued (well, most of them, at least).

Think of this as your open-all-hours, cyber green room, where there's always a performer or performance to discuss, some news to digest, or maybe just a little good gossip to share.
Note: Tim Smith now writes about the fine arts at This blog will be kept in place as an archive for an indefinite period. Please visit the new location to get the latest Mid-Atlantic arts coverage.
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