Stanley Fefferman’s Chamberfest Diary, August 6, 2008: Part One

Wednesday, August 6, Ottawa Chamberfest, ’08.

Chamberfest is all about choices. At noon today, we gave up an opportunity to hear the stellar Leipzig String Quartet (they would be around for a while) playing Beethoven and Halfter to take in a not-to-be-repeated appearance of Canadians: bass Robert Pomakov and the Ottawa Baroque Consort with guest soloist John Abberger of Tafelmusik. [Please click on the photo to see an enlarged image].

The opening piece was Bach’s Cantata BWV 52 written in C minor for bass soloist, solo oboe, strings, and basso continuo. It is dark in tone and spare in execution. “Ich habe genug” is one of the bleakest of Bach’s cantatas. The message is terminal: “With joy I greet my death.”

The work is organized as an alternation of aria and recitative. The slow, sad opening aria has Abberger keening an obbligato oboe above the strings and the anguished bass below. The central aria, the famous “Schlummert ein” has a tender melody in the strings to comfort the sighing, disconsolate bass. This was the point where Pomakov’s voice came out of strain mode and became touching. The closing aria is an almost cheerful dance of death. As you may be able to see from this candid photo of an audience member, dismal Bach at noon is not an altogether bad idea. [Please click on her photo to see an enlarged image].

The middle part of the program focused on Pomakov and showed him at his powerful and heartfelt best [Click on photo] singing ‘Russian romances’—“Lullaby”, and “Doubt” by Mikhail Glinka, and three fine and familiar Tchaikovsky compositions – “None but the lonely heart, Opus 6. No. 6,” “Night,” and “The stars look tenderly upon us, Opus 60. No 12.” We listened with great satisfaction to Pomakov’s singing, accompanied by the Gryphon Trio’s ubiquitous cellist Roman Borys and the impeccable pianist Jamie Parker.

The finale was a rare treat–Samuel Barber’s setting of the text of Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” sung in English richly accompanied by the outstanding violins of Ben Bowman and Donnie Deacon, with Theresa Rudolph on viola and Timothy McCoy on cello. Considering that most of the music concerned death, loneliness, and isolation, we left the concert hall feeling very uplifted and ready for a quick bite of lunch before the 2 pm concert.

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