An oboist does Bach and works based on Bach

The New York Times, 3/14/95

by Allan Kozinn

Peggy Pearson came up with an uncommonly good programming idea for her concert of oboe music on Sunday evening. The music of Bach, which is as lilting as oboe music gets, was the central focus. It was, in a way, the periphery as well: Ms. Pearson had John Harbison, Martin Brody and Elizabeth Brown compose new works for her that used Bach chorales as themes.

To further enliven the evening, she shared the spotlight with the soprano Dawn Upshaw in Mr. Harbison’s “Chorale Cantata” and in Bach’s Cantata No.84, and with the Greenleaf Chamber Players, a first-rate ensemble that played the Bach with a perfect sense of Baroque transparency and the new works with clarity and warmth. Ms. Upshaw was in fine voice and sang with her accustomed easygoing expressivity.

The new works were remarkable in that they each made use of chorale themes without degenerating into pastiche. In his “Chorale Cantata,” Mr. Harbison borrowed Baroque techniques to create an unfolding contrapuntal texture, and used Luther’s chorale texts to surround two evocative poems by Michael Fried.

In “Reliquary: Nun komm,” Mr. Brody had the oboe sing a version of “Nun komm’ der heiden Heiland” as violin, viola and cello lines wove an intricate, chromatic web around the chorale theme. And in “Pentimento,” Ms. Brown provided a lively fantasy in which fragments of the “Nun komm’” theme, again for the oboe, peek through the texture.

A lush string and oboe transcription of “Nun komm’ der heiden Heiland” preceded the Brody and Brown works. Ms. Pearson’s beautifully turned phrasing enlivened a transcription of the Concerto in A (BWV 1055), and she collaborated on equal terms with Eufrosina Raileanu, a violist, in the Trio Sonata (BWV 528).