Beyond Bach's Creativity
George Corbett, English Horn & Oboe
Tom Marshall, Harpsichord & Organ

      The concert took place at Old Donation Episcopal Church, one of America's oldest churches. Founded in 1639, the present building dates to 1736. The abandoned church burned in 1882 and the walls stood bare until 1916 when it was restored to its present elegant simplicity.

      Let me set the stage: the dappled sunlight on the trees, seen through the ancient, dimpled glass of the window panes; the greenery and the dark tree trunks outside; the plain white walls; the candles and the sound of oboe and harpsichord playing Johann Jacob Bach's (1685-1750) Sonata in C minor. It carries me back and in my mind's eye and I see a polished hardwood floor and beautiful wooden stair rails, books, music and lots of baroque chamber and organ LPs in a log house with cold running water and an outhouse. Bach and Handel were favorites and Telemann and the Italians. Outside the yard was filled with stately Colorado spruce trees tucked in the West Virginia hills. We were young, we were bright and the world was ours.

      I loved the place with its abundant nature, wildflowers, wild berries of all sorts, cherry and apple trees, mushrooms and a fine kitchen garden. But as a child there was no art, no classical music. The summer of '67 was different though. In college and graduate school I'd met new friends, Roger, a painter who knew and loved so much music and my friend Jean, who brought her piano and played Bach. Our friends from the city came to unwind and bask in nature and they brought treasures to share from New York and Philadelphia. Everything from the standard repertory to contemporary serious music and the latest hits, and lots in between, came to our door.

      Briefly I was once again in the hills and it was 1967, but the applause brought me back. The second selection was the Capriccio by J.S.Bach (1685-1750) and the harpsichordist is the very talented Tom Marshall, a committed proponent of early music styles who was first at the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and since1982 has been at the College of William and Mary. In J.S.Bach's little Sonata in G minor (BWV 1020) the harpsichordist was joined by George Corbett on the oboe and the music was alive and wonderful.

      In the second part of the program we heard Duetto in B Flat Major by Christoph Shafrath (1709-1763) on organ and oboe. This was our first hearing of Old Donation's new electronic organ with its clear, clean sound. Next came C.P.E. Bach's (1714-1788) Organ Sonata V in D Major, Wq. 70/5 with its big sound. The first movement, "Allegro di Molto," bounces from one theme to another in its quirky way and will eventually led to the music of Beethoven. The "Adagio e mesto" movement is meditative and the piece ends with a fine "Allegro" movement. The playing was superb in this piece and throughout the concert.

      On two pieces by J.S. Bach Mr. Corbett played English horn. O Mensch Bewein' dein Sunde gross, and Wie schon leuchtet der Morgenstern, BWV 739 was transcribed from Orgelbuchlein by our soloists.

      The last piece was Partita for English horn and Organ, Op.41/1 by Jan Koetsier (b.1911). Here we entered a new world of sound as the exuberance of the Baroque gives way to a searching, unfulfilled longing, a beauty circumscribed by pain. Certainly the "Vivace" (third movement) trips along but there is a damper on the joy expressed. In the "Largo" the music widens out, is more expansive but with a somber, almost funereal mood. Then the organ has a happier tune with the deep longing expressed in the English horn.

      This program was part of the church's Parks Memorial Fine Arts Series. The next programs in the series are in early October, 2004: October 2, Dedicatory Russian Choral Concert, 7:30 pm by the a cappella vocal ensemble Lyra from St. Petersburg, Russia. October 3 Dedicatory Organ Concert, 5 pm. Dr. Nogel Potts will play Old Donation's superb, new 64 stop Johannus organ from the Netherlands.


Back to George Corbett & Tom Marshall