The Oregon Mozart Players, Eugene’s intimate classical orchestra, went all Baroque Friday night with their annual holiday concert at First Christian Church downtown — and in the process presented a Bach warhorse as I’ve never before heard it played.
First, the concert itself. OMP presents its “Candlelight Baroque” concert each year at First Christian, rather than Beall Hall or the Hult Center, because of the wonderful Christmassy atmosphere you get when you light a traditional church interior with scores of actual candles. This might amount to a fire marshal’s nightmare, but it’s lovely to behold. Best of all, it’s a Christmas-time concert, in a Christmas-like setting, without a single note of actual Christmas music.
Friday’s program — and, yes, the concert will be repeated Saturday night — consisted of two pieces by J.S. Bach — his Orchestral Suite No. 1, which opened the program, and the second Brandenburg Concerto, which closed it — along with C.P.E. Bach’s Symphony No. 2 and Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Two Cellos.
The music was great. Soloists for all four pieces were drawn from the OMP ranks, and I was pretty much entranced listening to cellists Ann Grabe and Dale Bradley trade off musical lines in the cellos-only largo movement of the Vivaldi. (The movement also included a fair amount of action from OMP cellist Heather Blackburn, playing on her own as the orchestral accompaniment. Vivaldi should have called this “Concerto for Two and a Half Cellos.”)
But the piece that made me sit up straight tonight was the closing Brandenburg. Without beating this into the ground, it turns out Bach wrote this piece for four soloists, including a valveless trumpet called a clarino, something like a miniature French horn. Clarinos don’t hardly exist any more, or few people play them, so the whole thing gets awkwardly shifted to a modern trumpet.
But OMP trumpeter Dave Bender performed it on his piccolo trumpet, which shimmered and twinkled and shone like I’ve never before heard. (By weird coincidence, as I was driving home after the OMP concert I happened to catch a recording of the second Brandenburg performed by the Pittsburgh Symphony on KWAX, perfectly illustrating the different trumpet sound.)
The OMP musicians, conducted by Kelly Kuo, perform the program again at 7:30 p.m. Saturday. Go enjoy a Christmas concert without Jingle Bells.
Oregon Mozart Players
First Christian Church, 1166 Oak Street
7:30 p.m. Saturday, December 20