This weekend, a double dose of Bach in South County

GREAT BARRINGTON — One group plays modern instruments, the other group plays period instruments. Both groups will play all-Bach.

In effect, it's a Bach doubleheader, though the scheduling of the two concerts here is pure coincidence. On Friday night, the Berkshire Bach Society opens its season with a cantata concert at 7:30 at the First Congregational Church. On Sunday afternoon at 3, the South Berkshire Concert Series follows with a duo program by Sarah Cunningham on viola da gamba and Richard Egarr on harpsichord at Bard College at Simon's Rock.

Both programs present well-known musicians. The Bach Society program is titled "Cantata Concert with Myron Lutzke and Friends," signifying that cellist Lutzke is bringing six fellow musicians — a string quartet, a flutist and soprano Sherezade Panthaki — to join him in vocal and instrumental selections, culminating in the cantata "Ich habe genug" ("I am content"), BWV 82a.

"It's a group of people that have played together over the years in various formations," says Lutzke, the principal cellist of the Orchestra of St. Luke's in New York and a frequent Bach Society performer. While the program here will be on modern instruments, he adds, "actually, most of us play period instruments as well."

The Cunningham-Egarr pairing on period instruments marks a reunion. Both are noted figures on the early-music scene.

"We played together and recorded together back in the 1990s when I was still living in London," Cunningham recalls. "Then we sort of went separate ways for a quite a while until we met up again in New York."

The reunion occurred about three years ago when both were teaching at the Juilliard School. They did a recital together a year ago and the new Simon's Rock program (in the Kellogg Music Center) is a sequel. It includes Bach's three sonatas for viola da gamba and harpsichord, along with excerpts from "The Well-Tempered Clavier" and Cunningham's transcriptions of works originally composed for flute and for organ.

In a telephone interview, Lutzke noted that his program, specially created for the Bach Society, opens with a recently discovered Bach aria, "Everything with God and nothing without him," BWV 1127. Found in 2005 in a box in Weimar, the "occasional work" is "Bach's only contribution to a musical genre popular in late 17th-century Germany," according to Bach scholar Christoph Wolff.

Also by phone, Cunningham said she has been doing the three gamba sonatas since she was a teenager - they're a "lifelong work" for her - and after the performance here and another at Juilliard, she and Eggar will record them. She has done other recordings, she said, but she wanted to document her work at this stage of her career.

"It's something I've been wanting to do for a long time," she said.                                                            

There is great variety among the three sonatas, with the third so long, complex and vigorous that it approaches concerto style, she said. The slow movement is "totally gorgeous and lyrical." But the "heart of the program" is her transcription of the solo flute partita for unaccompanied gamba. The finale is her transcription of an organ trio sonata.                                                                                                                                                      

Both partners in the duo have had prominent careers.                                                                                     Cunningham has performed and recorded with many of the leading early-music conductors of today. With Monica Huggett, she was co-founder of Trio Sonnerie, recording most of the violin-viol chamber repertoire and touring on four continents between 1982 and 1997. She also accompanies baroque dancers.                         

Egarr has been music director of the Academy of Ancient Music since 2006 and is principal guest conductor of the Hague Philharmonic. He has guest-conducted orchestras ranging from Boston's Handel and Haydn Society to the London Symphony.                                                                                                                             

Lutzke teaches at the Indiana University Early Music Institute and is on the faculty of the Mannes School of Music, teaching period cello and baroque performance practice. He has been director of the Amherst Early Music Baroque Academy.


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