Arts & Events

Rachel Podger & Kristian Bezuidenhout in an All-Bach Program

By James Roy MacBean
Friday June 24, 2016 - 11:09:00 AM

After performing separately on Thursday, June 9, as part of the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition, produced by the San Francisco Early Music Society, violinist Rachel Podger and keyboard artist Kristian Bezuidenhout teamed up on Saturday, June 11, for an all-Bach program. This time Bezuidenhout played harpsichord, and, as always, Podger played her 1739 Pezzolini baroque violin. Together, these two artists performed works by Johann Sebastian Bach, especially his Sonatas for Violin and Harpsichord. 

The program began with Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Continuo No. 1, in B minor, BWV 1014. This work opens with a slow movement, and Rachel Podger provided a dreamy account of this movement’s violin melodies. The second movement was fast, and the third was again a slow movement, this time with yearning, sighing passages from Podger’s violin. The final movement was very fast, brought off with great technical brilliance by both soloists.  

Next came Rachel Podger performing the second of Bach’s set of six Sonatas and Partitas for Solo Violin, this one in the key of A minor, BWV 1003. After a first slow movement, Podger launched into a fast movement requiring nimble passagework. Amid the dissonances of this music, a sudden, loud yowling was heard from the balcony, where a gentleman experienced an epileptic seizure. This was so unnerving that Rachel Podger stopped playing, obviously concerned about the individual’s health. However, according to the concert’s organizers, the gentleman quickly recovered and was completely lucid, reassuring doctors he was okay. (Strangely enough, this was the second time in two months such a seizure occurred, also in one of Bach’s Solo Violin pieces. In April, while Gil Shaham was playing in Zellerbach Hall, someone began yowling. However, that episode was very brief and not very loud, and in the vast recesses of Zellerbach Hall, it’s quite possible Gil Shaham never heard the yowling. In any case, Shaham, unlike Rachel Podger, did not stop playing.)  

Once Rachel Podger was reassured by concert organizers that the individual in question was okay, she re-started the second movement from the top. Throughout this demanding work, Podger’s low and mid-range were plangent, and her top range was bright and clear-toned. Playing on a period violin with gut strings may not offer as loud a sound as a modern instrument, but for richness of tones throughout the different registers period instruments are superb. In any case, Podger’s playing was technically brilliant as always. Following this work came Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord No. 3 in E Major, BWV 1016. This piece is in four movements – slow, fast, slow, fast – and featured a very mellow third movement and a fourth that offered great repartee between Podger on violin and Bezuidenhout on harpsichord.  

The second half of the program began with Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord No. 2 in A Major, BWV 1015. This work was dispatched with aplomb. Next Kristian Bezuidenhout took the stage to perform Bach’s Toccata for Solo Harpsichord in D minor, BWV 913. Here Bezuidenhout had ample scope to demonstrate his technical virtuosity and interpretive skill. Likewise, in this concert’s final work, Bach’s Sonata for Violin and Harpsichord No. 6 in G Major, BWV 1019, Bezuidenhout had a long solo in the second movement that also allowed him to show off his chops. Throughout this final work, Rachel Podger and Kristian Bezuidenhout teamed up beautifully to complement one another in an outstanding display of Baroque concertizing.