Thoughtful performance of German pieces at Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival

July 30, 2012

The second of two concerts in this year’s Capitol Hill Chamber Music Festival, held at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church Sunday night, was devoted to music from the Prussian court of Frederick the Great. The theme is a timely one since Germany celebrates this year the 300th birthday of the Prussian king who, besides being a brilliant military strategist, was also a passionate musician. Fittingly, the festival’s artistic director, Jeffrey Cohan, played a baroque flute that is a replica of an instrument made for Frederick by his teacher, Johann Joachim Quantz, now in the collections of the Library of Congress.

Cohan is a wonderful player who exploits all the richly expressive potential of the baroque wooden flute with ease and subtlety. With his partners, harpsichordist Joseph Gascho and cellist Gozde Yasar, Cohan played sonatas by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, Georg Benda and Quantz — all musicians employed by Frederick’s at his Potsdam palace, Sanssouci — as well as a sonata by the monarch himself.

Late in his life, Johann Sebastian Bach visited Emanuel, the most famous of his several composer sons, in Potsdam. “Old Bach” was given a warm welcome at court, and Frederick asked Bach if he could improvise on a theme he had composed. Bach complied, evidently to the king’s satisfaction. But later, Bach used Frederick’s theme as the basis for one of his late masterpieces, “The Musical Offering.” Selections from this sublime work, along with a Bach violin sonata adapted for flute, were the culmination of a thoughtfully conceived and most enjoyable evening.

Rucker is a freelance writer.

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