Lucid Culture


Jon Mendle’s L’Infidele Dusts Off Some Old Gems

Classical guitarist Jon Mendle’s new album L’Infidele is one of the most singularly enjoyable and interesting releases to come over the transom here this year. Playing solo on 11-string archguitar – a relatively recent invention devised to enable guitarists to play Renaissance lute repertoire – Mendle resurrects two obscure eighteenth-century compositions and gives a third a welcome reinterpretation. He plays with stately precision and fluidity – while the occasional torrents of notes can be hypnotic, the incisive melodies here are strong and memorable, transcending the centuries between composition and performance here. In particular, the first two pieces have a striking plaintiveness, and Mendle embraces it vividly.

The first composition is German baroque lutenist Adam Falckenhagen’s Sonata IV, Op. 1, dating from 1740. The opening largo section is wary and deliberate, enhanced by Mendle’s careful pacing – he doesn’t rubato it, which might not seem like the compliment that it is, but that’s a plus, considering how many players have decided to warp the era’s steady tempos to make them “postmodern” or something like that. Here, the additional low bass notes of the archguitar give the arrangement a piano-like tone. Mendle attacks the second, fugal movement with both smoothness and bite and spins off the rolling ripples of the finale with a deliberateness that stops a step ahead of carefree – this is a dark work.

Carl Philipp Emmanuel Bach’s Prussian Sonata V begins on a similar tone, steady yet with a pensive undercurrent. The second, andante movement is essentially a diptych: a wary waltz, and a second one even slower, and yet Mendle finds room for additional dynamics. The fluid, final Allegro Assai movement lets Bach the son go to his dad’s playbook for a blend of catchiness and mathematical logic. The final work here is L’Infidele, a six-part sonata by another German lutenist, Sylvius Leopold Weiss, impressive even to current-day ears for its eclecticism. It’s easy to imagine the opening movement as a processional for organ. The second expands the theme as a waltz; the third, Sarabande movement begins slow and hypnotic, then loosens up and loses a little of its gravitas, but not much. Mendle gets to cut loose more on the final three movements: a minor-key waltz that could pass as a Bach miniature; a Musette whose courtly gentility has a hint of the woods, and the best part, the final Paysanne where Mendle gets to take it out as more of a full-fledged dance. The album is out as both hard copy and download from In a Circle Records. Mendle’s next performance is June 4 at 8 PM as a soloist with the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony performing Villa-Lobos’ Concerto for Guitar and Small Orchestra, at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, 50 Oak St. in San Francisco

May 4, 2011 Posted by | classical music, Music, music, concert, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Bach Has Been Reformed!

That’s right. Good old Johann Sebastian has finally discovered syncopation, dynamics and standard tuning! And it’s rumored that he’s become an atheist. OK, enough of that joke.

Bach ReformedRob Moose alternating between tenor guitar and mandolin, accompanied by violinist Dana Lyn – played last night at Barbes and earned a roaring ovation from a surprisingly full house, especially for an early show. This isn’t the latest scheme to market classical music to a rock crowd: it’s new interpretations of Bach that breathe fresh energy into the music while remaining impressively true to its original passion and intensity. Both players have a smooth, legato style, a unique approach that works because they make the music fluid without actually swinging it.

The emotion in Bach is not in the rhythm: done right, it’s metronomic and mechanical. But as anyone in the Bach cult (it’s hard to think of a real Bach fan who isn’t completely hardcore about it) is aware, the melodies span the entire spectrum of human emotion, from the subtle to the extreme. Tonight’s show alternated between wistfulness and ebullience, as the duo ran through almost an hour’s worth of their own arrangements of several pieces including the Partita in D Minor for Violin, an E Major cello piece that they’d transposed to G (it works better that way on guitar, without all the open strings that have to be muted), and a six-part cello sonata.

Moose is also an occasional composer, and the two played an air that he’d written a couple of years ago, whose slightly nostalgic feel (with some indie rock chords snuck in for extra volume) fit perfectly with the rest of the program. Lyn, who plays a lot of Irish music, played one of her own pieces (“127 bars,” noted Moose) that started very Celtic, then took a striking detour with a somewhat drastic tempo change and a lot of eerie dissonance before getting all pretty and upbeat again. They closed with a jig and a bourree, Moose playing from memory, very impressively. The two didn’t completely nail every single change: “Check out this really cool intro!” Moose encouraged the audience, as he’d missed his cue seconds before. But the passion and fun of the performance far overshadowed any slight imperfection.

“We decided to talk to the audience tonight,” revealed Moose. “All this Bach just makes us more introverted.” Throughout the show, they shared amusing, off-the-cuff insights into how this piece or that was especially difficult, or interesting, and why. Lyn told a long joke with a limerick whose punchline involves screwing up the limerick. And she screwed it up even further, which actually made it even funnier. Bach Reformed will dispel any ill-founded notions you might hold after being subjected to NPR fund drives or WQXR’s programming for the entirety of December: in their hands, Bach is all about the fun (and the dance: remember, that’s what jigs and bourrees are for). Whether you’re hardcore, or just discovering how beautiful and intense Bach’s music is, you should see these guys sometime.

April 9, 2008 Posted by | classical music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment