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Italian Bach focus of early-music concert

IN CONCERT Victoria Baroque Players: Italian Bach When/where: Sunday, 7: 30 p.m., Church of St. John the Divine (1611 Quadra St.). Tickets: Adults $20, students and children $5.
Victoria Baroque Players perform early music on period instruments.


Victoria Baroque Players: Italian Bach When/where: Sunday, 7: 30 p.m., Church of St. John the Divine (1611 Quadra St.).

Tickets: Adults $20, students and children $5. In person at Larsen Music, Long and McQuade, Ivy's Bookshop, Munro's Books, and the church office.

VCM Presents: Sara Davis Buechner, piano.

When/where: Saturday, 7: 30 p.m., Alix Goolden Hall (907 Pandora Ave.).

Tickets: Adults $25, seniors and students $15, Victoria Conservatory of Music students, faculty, and staff free. Call 250386-5311; in person at the VCM front desk (900 Johnson St.).

The Victoria Baroque Players, our first home-grown ensemble devoted to giving historically informed performances of early music on period instruments, made its debut last year in an all-Bach program and has devoted its first full season almost exclusively to Bach, particularly his cantatas and concertos.

That season will close Sunday evening with a program exploring the decisive influence Italian Baroque music had on Bach's work in several genres.

The program will be bracketed by two concertos in A minor: the Violin Concerto, BWV 1041, and the Triple Concerto, BWV 1044, for flute, violin, and harpsichord. Christi Meyers will be the soloist in the former; the latter will feature flutist Soile Stratkauskas - the ensemble's founder - violinist Paul Luchkow, and harpsichordist Christopher Bagan (who played a keyboard concerto with the ensemble in September). These three will also perform a trio sonata, and Bagan will perform the Italian Concerto, Bach's novel rendering for solo harpsichord of a Vivaldi-style concerto.

The sole vocal work will be the secular cantata Non sa che sia dolore, BWV 209, the music of which is as light and melodious-as Italianate-as Bach's ever gets, and includes a prominent part for Stratkauskas (the opening Sinfonia is effectively a flute concerto). Soprano Nancy Washeim will be the featured soloist.

The performances of the Victoria Baroque Players this season have been lively, sensitive, and stylish - even if the string players' obsession with avoiding vibrato sometimes adversely affects their tuning, tone and phrasing - and the ensemble has convincingly met the very particular technical and interpretive challenges posed by Bach's style, winning large and enthusiastic audiences in the process.

That said, I hope they never play Bach again. OK, maybe not never; I would like to see their "Bach on Palm Sunday" tradition continued. But to judge from their few performances of music by others, they have denied their audiences much by limiting themselves to a single, very idiosyncratic composer who, however great, was hardly the alpha and omega of Baroque music, or even necessarily its summit.

So I am happy to report that, next January, the Victoria Baroque Players will participate in a program of concertos by Handel, Heinichen, Telemann, and Vivaldi for the Early Music Society of the Islands.

On Sunday, they will announce the rest of their 2012-13 season, which, I hope, will see them finally blossom not just as Bachians but as true Baroque players.

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Pianist Sara Davis Buechner has performed often with the Victoria Symphony in recent years, becoming a favourite with local audiences, yet she has not given a solo recital here since 2003. On Saturday evening, she will finally give that overdue, very welcome return recital, bringing to a close the inaugural season of VCM Presents, the Victoria Conservatory of Music's concert series.

(On Sunday, at 2: 30 p.m., she will also give a public master class in Alix Goolden Hall; admission is by donation.)

Buechner is American but now lives in Vancouver, where she is an associate professor at the University of British Columbia, though she still maintains a busy international career as performer, teacher, lecturer and adjudicator.

As a pianist she is widely admired for her virtuosity, interpretive flair and engaging platform personality, as well as her enormous repertoire, which includes more than 100 concertos and ranges from Bach to new music (she has commissioned and premièred works and is a composer herself).

That very interesting and catholic repertoire, generously represented on CDs, includes standard fare as well as more obscure music that rarely attracts performers of her stature - classical novelties, "popular" works, film music, Japanese music - and she will sample both in Saturday's program.

The first half will comprise two sonatas: Haydn's last (No. 52, in E-flat major) and Weber's first (Op. 24, in C major). "I like the juxtaposition of works by an old man with a young mind and a young man with a flagrantly operatic versatility," Buechner says.

"The works are not very far apart in years"- 1794 and 1812, respectively - "and have much more in common [in terms of Romantic appeal and keyboard flourish] than not."

The second half, by contrast, will be "all song and dance": Joaquín Turina's Danzas gitanas (Gypsy Dances), Opp. 55 and 84, from the early 1930s, which Buechner describes as "a fantastic set of 10 miniatures exploring every rhythm and colour in flamenco style;" and four foxtrots by Gershwin, transcribed from acoustic recordings and player-piano rolls.

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