9 February 2017

A=440>415

The Canberra Bach Ensemble returned with a program of Nunc dimittis cantatas. I had to read the informative program and a little more to understand the history of all these, of the Canticle of Simeon (Nunc dimittis) and the Feast of the purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Candlemass) and Martin Luther's reworking of Nunc dimittis as Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin (in peace and joy I despair). Suffice to say this was nothing like the joyous series of advent cantatas that made up the last CBE concert. All four cantatas were restrained cantatas and one or two seemed to have just one chorus. But this is Bach so there were memorable passages none-the-less. I particularly noticed one with pizz strings in a tenor aria. The program says this "despicts the passage of time like a ticking clock, anticipating the 'allerletzten Glockenschlag' ('very last bell-strike')". Also different is the tuning: CBE had moved from A=440 to 415, standard baroque pitch. Not all instruments were gut, but plenty were, and same with the associated baroque bows. I particularly noticed Dave's huge- but downy-sounding gut-strung bass. A pair of viole da gamba appeared for the first cantata and I was surprised how hushed they were: sounding well under the cellos who were well under the single bass. The first cantata (BWV106) was supposedly written for a funeral; the next two (BWV125&82) were written two years apart for the Purification feast (Did Mary need to be purified? Apparently so.) The final cantata (BWV95) featured those authentic period instruments, cornetto, baroque oboes and the like, and finished with a chorus. Ah, there's a touch of that exhilarating joy that Bach cantatas are known for. The singing was wonderful throughout although I especially noticed the males, not least one duet for bass and tenor. And in some ways, it was a feat of endurance, being a very hot afternoon in Canberra. So a different series of cantatas, a learning experience for those who followed the Nunc dimittis connections, a concert of transition for the CBE and, as ever, a wonderful outing.

Canberra Bach Ensemble performed four Bach cantatas (BWV106,125,82,95) at St Christopher's, Manuka. Andrew Koll (conductor) directed, with Leanne Bear (violin, leader) and singers Keren Dalzell (soprano), Maartje Sevenster (alto), Robert Macfarlane (tenor) and Andrew Fysh (bass).

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