The Portland Bach Festival took a break from its namesake on Saturday night, when it presented “Before and After Bach” at the Cathedral Church of St. Luke’s. The program was more or less as its name suggested, although of the six composers whose music was performed, the lifespans of four overlapped with Bach’s, and three were nearly exact contemporaries. The sixth, György Ligeti, who died in 2006, was the only composer who lived significantly later than Bach.

Stylistically, though, a very few years can make a difference. One of the post-Bach composers was one of Bach’s sons, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, who was born in 1714, when Bach was 29. You might expect him to have composed in a style similar to that of his father (and teacher), but there was a clear generation gap, musically. Even in his time, the elder Bach’s style was regarded as fussy and antique, and by the time he died, in 1750, that approach was being supplanted by a sleeker, more direct style that would find its peak in the Classicism of Haydn and Mozart.

C.P.E. Bach was one of the pioneers of this new style, but his Trio Sonata in F major (H.588), composed five years after J.S. Bach’s death, has a foot in both worlds. The elegant flowing lines of the older style remain central here, but in place of the involved counterpoint that would have driven a Baroque trio sonata, C.P.E. gives us trim, stately dialogues.

The top lines of this trio are usually played by contrasting instruments – a bass recorder and a viola, usually – but the festival opted for a variant in which violists play both lines. Nicholas Cords and Danielle Farina more than made up for the lack of timbral variety, not only in passages where the spotlight shifts between the two lines, but in their carefully balanced tandem playing as well.

There was only one pre-Bach offering, the violinist-composer Johann Paul von Westhoff’s Partita No. 5 in D minor for unaccompanied violin. With the solo cello suites played at earlier festival concerts fresh in listeners’ ears, the Westhoff, composed in 1696 (when Bach was 11) demonstrated the tradition on which Bach built his solo string works.

For both composers, the challenge was wresting counterpoint from instruments more typically heard playing single lines, and if Westhoff’s solutions don’t quite approach the level of virtuosity that Bach attained, the Partita is an attractive piece, and violinist Keir GoGwilt did a superb job of projecting its rhythmic variety and thematic inventiveness.

The program included a work from the post-Bach solo string canon as well – Ligeti’s Viola Sonata, a dark, chromatic work, alternately introspective and forceful, and rich in influences of all sorts, including Hungarian folk themes, Baroque dance forms and jazz rhythms. The technically impeccable, interpretively transfixing performance by Jesús Rodolfo, a student in the festival’s new Bach Virtuosi program, was one of the evening’s highlights.

Other Bach Virtuosi players made strong contributions to the program as well. Daniel Yue gave a sizzling account of the solo violin line in Vivaldi’s “Winter” Concerto (Op. 8, No. 4) from “The Four Seasons,” and flutist Laura del Sol Jiménez and violist Sergio Muñoz gave a lively, urbane performance of Joseph Bodin de Boismortier‘s Suite in G minor (Op. 35, No. 3), one of two reminders, in this program, that at the very same time as J.S. Bach was putting the crowning touches on the German Baroque style, and his sons were veering off toward Classicism, French composers were writing light but ear-catching entertainments.

They also wrote weightier pieces, of course, and one of those – the “Troisième Leçon,” from François Couperin‘s “Leçons de ténèbres” – closed the program. The “Leçons,” a setting of the Lamentations of Jeremiah, were composed in 1703 for the week leading to Easter, and in this third section, Jeremiah’s pained verses are given to two sopranos, who sing both separately and in passages in which their lines wind inextricably around each other. Jolle Greenleaf‘s clear, bright timbre and Sherezade Panthaki‘s slightly deeper tone offset each other perfectly, and captured the soul-wrenching power of Jeremiah’s lament over the destruction of Jerusalem with vivid clarity.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

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