After two years in which La Follia's early-January concerts of harpsichord music by J.S. Bach played to capacity crowds, you'd figure the lesson for the next follow-up would be: "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." And certainly Herd the Third: More Concerti by Bach for Multiple Harpsichords served up much of the same reedy keyboard goodness that entertained audiences so mightily in the previous two programs – indeed, it featured a reprise of the Concerto in A Minor for Four Harpsichords and Strings from the original 2011 Bach's Herd of Harpsichords concert (played with the same infectious vigor as before).
But Artistic Director Keith Womer – who playfully welcomed audiences to this Herd wearing a cowboy hat – couldn't resist tweaking the program a bit. In addition to the Bach, he included a contemporary work for four harpsichords and strings by a modern master of the instrument, Asako Hirabayashi. It was a bold departure from the usual stately progressions and rococo runs, and from the first notes – the strings sounding anguished and dissonant – there was no mistaking the era; this was our time. The harpsichords soon followed suit, anxiously plucking odd notes and skittering like spiders, with the occasional lyrical run. The shift in style was initially jarring, but Womer had asked that we keep our minds open, and if you met the work on its own terms, it offered distinct pleasures: the tense curtain of notes that the harpsichords formed in the second movement, behind which a melody took shape, overseen by moody, regretful strings; the third movement's spirited violin part – given charming gypsy flourishes by Veronika Vassileva – and the jaunty race of the harpsichords seemingly recovered from the score of a Sixties British film. Hirabayashi's concerto (on which she joined Womer, Jeffrey Jones-Ragona, and JiMin Kim at the keyboards) proved there's life in the old instrument yet – and room for more than Bach in La Follia's Herd. But we think that Johann Sebastian would approve.
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