Tuesday, March 27, 2007

American Bach Soloists: Early Bach Cantatas

This Sunday evening I heard American Bach Soloists in a program of early Bach cantatas at St. Mark's Lutheran Church. This turns out to be a very good venue for this program. The church interior is bright & not too large. I overheard people commenting that the new organ had been inaugurated on this day's service.

The American Bach Soloists are an early music group. The ensemble plays Baroque instruments, & they employ the economical practice of one performer per part (though they double the bass line with a sort of double bass listed in the program as a violone grosso). This extends to the vocalists as well, so even the choruses are sung by just the quartet of soloists.

Besides translations of the text, my program included music for some of the hymns. At the start of the concert the conductor explained that for the cantatas with final chorales, these chorales would be repeated, with the audience joining in. & indeed, after the 1st chorale, the conductor turned around, there was a blast from the loft organ, & just about everyone in the audience sang. I found that there was a particularly enthusiastic tenor right behind me.

I don't know enough about the development of Bach's music to understand the programming, but this is incredible music. Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt BWV 18 makes one feel the rightness of putting ones faith in God. The wedding canata Der Herr denket an uns BWV 196 manages to be both joyful & solemn, as befits the occasion. Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen BWV 12 says everything there is to know about anguish.

For me Baritone Jesse Blumberg was the star of the show. He has a voice that sounds strong & large enough for opera. I felt like he was always making a point when he sang. & he seemed very happy to be there. Also exceptional was Stephen Hammer, playing the Baroque oboe. This must be a demanding instrument, & he had surprisingly full sound that was never pinched or squeaky. The program gave him many opportunities to display his evident musicality. I also liked the tenor Aaron Sheehan. He has a clear, clean, high sound that is well-suited to this music.

I had the impression that most of the audience are regulars & fans of this group, so there was a nice rapport between audience & performers the entire evening.

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