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`P.D.Q.’ BASH LACKS A CERTAIN SPARK

SHARE `P.D.Q.’ BASH LACKS A CERTAIN SPARK

In his "Definitive Biography of P.D.Q. Bach" Prof. Peter Schickele informs us that this last "and by all means the least" of J.S. Bach's 20-odd children came into the world at one minute past midnight the night of March 31, 1742. That would make his birthday April 1, a doubly appropriate day for celebrating (although Schickele himself has stated what we really should celebrate is the date of his death).

Thus it was that Sunday at East High School, for the second year in a row, the Contemporary Music Consortium sprang its "P.D.Q. Bach" April Fool's Day Gala on a not entirely unsuspecting public. But at the risk of venturing into Siskel-and-Ebert land, let me say that what I did not suspect was that there would be so few laughs.Which is to say last year's concert was not only more varied but funnier, and a lot better attended.

It was certainly more manic. Obviously no one can top Schickele himself at presenting the music of his discovery (something Utah Symphony patrons will have a chance to rediscover next January, when he returns on what is being billed as the "Farewell Tour"). But so fast and furious came both the verbal and the visual humor that the occasional sags were barely noticeable.

This year, by contrast, the commentary was entrusted to KUER's Gene Pack, whose quiet self-spoofery brought an occasional smile but occasionally seemed just a little straight. Nor was the level of comic energy raised appreciably by the performers.

In fairness few of the pieces programed Sunday find Schickele himself at his most inspired. Except for the baroque-style sneezes of the "Fanfare for the Common Cold," the opening instrumental selections were more amusing for their titles than for the music. Thus both the Octoot for Winds and E flat major Schleptet rely ultimately on vocal interjections for their laughs (e.g., the former's "do-dah, do-dah" and "shave and a haircut" boom-boom). Even the physical gags, such as a violinist having her finger bandaged and the bassoonists wrestling with their straps, lacked a certain spark.

Better was the post-intermission offering, a full-scale performance (complete with blender) of the oratorio "The Seasonings," whose punning wordplay never quite wears out its welcome. ("If you've got the money, honey," the mezzo sings at one point, "I've the thyme.")

Moreover on this occasion the vocal quartet would have done honor to an oratorio of J.S. Bach's, especially soprano Carolyn Talboys, mezzo Maryann Dresher and tenor Todd Miller. As for bass Mike Vielstich, he can be credited with literally singing "C sharp."

Otherwise the musical allusions were as transparent as the words they were tied to ("I'm cumin, I'm cumin, while my head is bending low . . ."), culminating in a spirited ripoff of the "Hallelujah" Chorus. For that credit conductor Madeline Schatz and an instrumental complement (in various states of dress and undress) that included such "original instruments" as the windbreaker and the tromboon.

And of course P.D.Q., whose mother of record may have been Anna Magdalena but whose father, spiritually and textually, is a man named Schickele. And for some reason his puns on the run never seem to run out of breath.