Few summer evenings are as civilized as those spent at the chamber-scale Bach Festival at Grace Church in Georgetown. This annual event began in the gentlest fashion Wednesday, with a recital by keyboardist Thomas Marshall and oboist and English horn player George Corbett.
The first half of the program concentrated on repertoire for oboe and harpsichord. An affecting -- if imaginatively limited -- oboe sonata by Johann Sebastian's brother Johann Jacob Bach led (appropriately enough) to a J.S. Bach solo-harpsichord work that musically describes a brother's leave-taking, the Capriccio, BWV 992, and finally to an oboe transcription of J.S. Bach's Sonata in G Minor, BWV 1020. Corbett's and Marshall's hand-in-glove phrasing proved a model of elegant restraint and level-headed shaping of the musical argument.
The duo's playing remained smartly in sync after intermission, in a pair of their own arrangements, for English horn and organ, of chorales from J.S. Bach's "Orgelbuchlein," and in Jan Koetsier's canny 20th-century piece of neo-baroque mood-painting, the Partita for English Horn and Organ.
But flying solo, in the vivid D Major Organ Sonata, Wq. 70/5, of Johann Sebastian's son C.P.E. Bach (and earlier, in the Capriccio), Marshall's playing became fitful and abrupt, breaking up the musical line and not letting phrases naturally finish. Even so, his colorful registration in the organ sonata made the dialogue between the two keyboard manuals sound almost orchestral, which brought its own satisfactions.
-- Joe Banno