GREAT BARRINGTON -- How do these things happen?
Three Berkshire classical-concert presenters butted heads for audiences Saturday, all three of them featuring musicians well known in New York - presumably in a bid for weekenders from New York and environs. Slice and dice. Whatever happened at Tannery Pond or Music and More, empty seats gaped -- even in a papered house -- at the Berkshire Bach Society's season opener in the Mahaiwe Performing Arts Center.
A masterpiece of bad coordination or planning.
The Bach fanciers' gambit was eight members of the St. Luke's Chamber Ensemble, the nucleus of the versatile Orchestra of St. Luke's, in a program that nodded to Bach but paid primary homage to Mozart and Beethoven. A pity that so many listeners, for whatever reason on the busy Berkshire weekend, had to miss this concert. We don't get music-making of this caliber often in the Berkshire off-season.
The 33-year-old Orchestra of St. Luke's has performed at Tanglewood but this was a Berkshire debut for the chamber group. The program was clearly meant for popular appeal. Short excerpts from Bach set the stage for Mozart's Clarinet Quintet and Beethoven's Septet.
The gem here was the Mozart quintet, with Jon Manasse as the silken-smooth clarinetist. The ensemble's playing was seamless, and mostly in a hush. The larghetto, with strings muted, seemed to drift enchantedly like a summer cloud. The finale struck a deft balance between
Mozartean wit and something more fragile: Mozartean gentleness.
After intermission, the Beethoven performance showed conscientiousness as an aspect of professionalism.
Unlike the late Mozart work with its tints of autumn, the Beethoven comes from youth -- youth showing it has arrived, and by God, here I am! The humor is bumptious. The lyricism is mellow.
These things seemed smoothed out in a well-played but well-mannered performance. With a relaxed air, the ensemble seemed to treat the piece as background or dinner music, like other divertimento-type pieces -- Mozart's, for example - in use by the aristocracy.
In a theater, the music lost some of its zest, the slow movements turning drowsy. Only cellist Daire FitzGerald and bassist John Feeney seemed to be having fun. The strings dominated the winds (horn player R.J. Kelley appeared to be having trouble with his instrument).
For appetizers from Bach, a string quintet brought a nice feeling of repose, and some effective ornamentation, to the Air from the Suite No. 3 for orchestra. St. Luke's concertmaster Krista Bennion Feeney gave an energetic lilt to the Gavotte from the Partita No. 3 for solo violin.
Importing a group as large and good as this was a new turn, and a welcome one, for the Bach society. Too bad everybody had to go up against the Brentano String Quartet at Tannery Pond and the Apollo Trio at Music and More.