At their best, the musicians of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society chart a path that includes wit and gravitas, adventurous programming and fresh looks at the classics, and enough technique to make it all work flawlessly. Fortunately, the BDDS musicians are often at their best, and they were again Friday night at the Stoughton Opera House.
For several years, festivals have taken themes that generate numerous puns and loosely guide programming choices. This year's theme — mixology — frames good old J.S. Bach as a bartender, and riffs on drink names to build programs out of shared geographic origins (Manhattan, White Russian), last names, and, in this concert, "Kir Royale," music associated with royalty.
Since these themes are followed loosely at best, "Kir Royale" had one piece written for a king (Couperin's "Concert Royal," for Louis XIV); a Haydn symphony favored by Marie Antoinette (No. 85); Schubert's Quintet in C Major, which holds a kind of royal status among chamber music literature; and a Haydn piano sonata with a somewhat more distant connection — it was written for Maria Anna von Genzinger, whose husband was physician to Haydn's longtime employer, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy.
The Couperin, lead by flutist and BDDS artistic co-director Stephanie Jutt, was the most restrained and, yes, courtly, performance of the evening. Passing through dance movements that were lively, singing, and only rarely heavy, the trio (flute, cello, harpsichord) played well throughout. The finest movement, though, was also the least typical. Layton James's "Sarabande," a harpsichord solo, was intimate and tender, as if examining a fascinating jewel.
Jeffrey Sykes, BDDS's other artistic co-director, offered Haydn's Sonata no. 49 on piano, an unannounced addition to the program. Sykes's performance with beautiful and sensitive, funny where it needed to be yet also bold in places. I especially loved his flexible sense of timing, not least in his impeccable rendering of the rambunctious first movement — he paused and he pushed, he was delicate and fierce. It was surely a performance worthy of papa Haydn, whose composition career was a study of the interplay between the witty and the serious.
The second Haydn piece on the program was the Symphony No. 85, arranged during the composer's lifetime for harpsichord, flute, string quartet, and a second cello. While the reasons for such arrangements were pragmatic-in making the piece more accessible they also fueled sales of scores-good reductions also help clarify lines and phrases for listeners. In this performance, the texture was both rich and clear. The only blemish on this otherwise fantastic performance was the sense that the two violins were sometimes trying too hard to fill in for their absent section-mates, resulting, at times, a somewhat shrill or aggressive tone.
The concert concluded with Schubert's Quintet, which Sykes described in his prefatory comments as the richest, most complex piece of chamber music he knew. Indeed, the performance honored the composition with a sense of maturity and deep perspective. In so many places the musical journey is halting, tentative, turbulent, or furious, and while the musicians brought forth all of those qualities and allowed the audience to experience them in the moment, it was also clear that the performers themselves were always aware of where they were going.
It's too easy to come up with metaphors that extend the mixology theme — we can raise a glass to BDDS's musical accomplishments, compare the group to a wine that's aging well, or note that like a good cocktail, their performance is complex and multi-faceted, a little sweetness here a little unexpected punch there. So be it. All of those things are true.