Sunday, June 10, 2018

Vox Luminis Performs Bach Motets

Ten singers from the Belgian early music ensemble Vox Luminis are appearing in the Berkeley Festival & Exhibition, & on Friday evening I heard their program of Bach motets. The group has a soft-edged, transparent sound, & the performance was flowing & numinous. The sopranos had lustrous high notes that seemed to sail through the air. Even though there was just one or two singers per part, the performers managed to make a distinction between chorus sections, with the voices blending, & solo passages, with individual voices standing out. I liked the easeful, sustainable tempos, which never pushed the music.

Artistic director Lionel Meunier sang as well as led, swaying & gesturing with one hand. He is hard to miss, being a good head taller than any of his colleagues. Haru Kitamika accompanied on a small organ, usually playing a brief prelude for each motet.

One of the sopranos clearly had recently broken her foot & had to be brought out in a wheelchair. She perched herself carefully on a stool during the performance, & though she must have been in discomfort the whole time, it was not apparent in her singing. The audience singled her out for applause whenever she came on & off stage.

After the printed portion of the program, Mr. Meunier addressed the audience. He obviously already has a relationship with the festival audience, & his manner was charming & funny. He joked that when he first heard the phrase "break a leg" in America, he had no idea what it meant but that he knows now. He announced that the group's latest CD, of Buxtehude cantatas, was being released at the festival & humorously cajoled us to attend their Sunday performance, which closes the festival.

As an encore, the group presented Johann Schelle's version of Komm, Jesu, komm, which Mr. Meunier explained was the precursor to Bach's setting of the same text. The music was sweet & serene.

§ Berkeley Festival & Exhibition

J.S. Bach Motets
Vox Luminis, Lionel Meunier, Artistic Director
Zsuzsi Tóth, Maria Valdmaa, Caroline Weynants, sopranos
Victoria Cassano, mezzo-soprano
Alexander Chance, Jan Kullmann, counter-tenors
Robert Buckland, Philippe Froeliger, tenors
Sebastian Myrus, Lionel Meunier, basses
Haru Kitamika, organ

Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV 225
Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226
Komm, Jesu, komm, BWV 229
Ich lasse dich nicht, BWV Anh. 159
Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227

Encore: Komm, Jesu, komm, Johann Schelle

June 8, 2018 – 7:30pm
First Congregational Church, Berkeley

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