J.S. Bach, the supreme eclectic, drew from the techniques of an international host of musicians. Paying tribute to the Leipzig cantor's Italian influences Tuesday night at Washington Cathedral, organist William Neil and trumpeter Edward Carroll interspersed Bach's legendary fugues and concertos with worthy selections from his Italian contemporaries.
In Bach's day, the Italians were experimenting with the melodic turns and profuse harmonies that were to make an indelible mark on emerging sonata forms. Trumpeter Ronald Blais's shimmering performance of Torelli's Concerto in D proved that they were also transforming such pieces into vehicles for stupendous virtuosity.
The exultant optimism of Vivaldi's Concerto in C Major for Two Trumpets represents courtly entertainment music of the highest level. And this piece, featuring Carroll and Jon Sumida, along with the Torelli concerto, provided fertile ground for the two "Brandenburg" concertos Neil performed in transcription for organ.
Since Italians and Germans alike were fascinated with variegated instrumental combinations, Tuesday night's ubiquitous organ could narrate only part of the "musical odyssey from Bologna to Leipzig" that the program promised. In the Brandenburg transcriptions, Neil captured some -- but not all -- of Bach's intriguing colors and contrasts between solo and tutti passages.