23 November 2016
The eternal glory of JS
This being the run-up to Christmas, these were for Advent and again we were regaled with a generous program of four Bach cantatas. It was Andrew Koll's return with his rebirthed Canberra Bach Ensemble and it was several hours of great beauty and order and often of spine-chilling thrills. I can only hear the choral segments as a thrill, especially at the end of a cantatas, after the more subdued recitatives and arias. For when the chorus releases, all hell breaks loose. No, that's certainly the wrong metaphor, for Bach composed for the glory of God and these are clearly and transparently glorious, as well as gorgeous. I don't bother to follow the text (sung in German with an English translation). Perhaps I should. Just once I did, when soprano Emma and bass Andrew were singing to each other with quizzical smiles. I discovered he was Jesus and she was the Soul and they were pledging that their love would never part and committing to graze together amongst the roses of Heaven. Apparently, this cantata associates with a Gospel reading (Matthew 25:1-13) of virgins awaiting the arrival of the bridegroom. These are celebrating a central Christian feast, after all, and it is of a different era, even if the music doesn't sound out of place for modern ears. But I just listened. Enjoying the interplay of solo voices, the engulfing chorus parts, the structure and counterpoint of instruments with their ever-forward baroque motion. And it all sat so well. Andrew has drawn together a wonderful cast of performers so there was so little to query. I loved that double act of soprano and bass towards the end of the performance. I admired Leanne's busy violins and Dave's excellent bass part, sometimes doubled by Kristen on bassoon or Anthony on organ or Gillian and Clara on cello. I enjoyed the solo arias but especially the sparse, spacious recitatives, where story is told with minimal orchestration, just one or two instruments, continuo organ with cello or perhaps violin. And the choir of 27, occasionally featuring the tenors alone, or a soloist who walked out front for a role. They performed four cantatas, BWV 61,36,62 and 140. Someone commented that a concert of one composer is to be preferred. I'm not sure (I don't mind Beethoven with Mozart or even Glass). But this was just Bach and it was wonderful. Congrats to Andrew for a successful outing and for the renewed CBE. A great pleasure to be enveloped in several hours of such glory.
Andrew Koll (musical director) conducted the Canberra Bach Ensemble playing four Bach advent cantatas at St Christopher's Cathedral. Leanne Bear (violin) led the orchestra. Vocal soloists were Emma Griffiths, Chloe Lankshear and Keren Dalzell (sopranos), Maartje Seventer (alto), Paul Sutton (tenor) and Andrew Fysh (bass).