J.S. Bach goes to Inverness and Tetbury – Day 1 (29 September)

Welcome to the new installment of AAM’s blog and its newest project! I’m Cassandra and I’ll be your blog guide again this week for our new project, a complete program of Papa Bach (J.S., of course) that we will be performing in Inverness and Tetbury. This program is particularly enjoyable because it unites many of the core string players of the group as well as highlighting some of our fabulous soloists. We have spent the last two days rehearsing in the Amadeus Centre in Maida Vale and I think everyone is enjoying revisiting this core repertoire.

The first concert is tonight, 29 September, in the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness. The program will open with the sacred cantata Mein Herze Schwimmt im Blut BWV 199 (“My Heart Swims in Blood;” one hopes it sounds a bit less macabre in German). Our soprano soloist for this incredible cantata is the equally incredible Elizabeth Watts, a stunningly gifted young artist. The work was composed in 1714 in Weimar and concerns a sinner finding redemption through God. One unusual feature of the 8-movement work is that three of those movements are recitativi accompagnati instead of the more common recitativi secchi. This means that the entire string section holds the chords that form the halo behind the sung text rather than only getting the harmonic structure from the organ or the harpsichord (or both, in our keyboard-friendly ensemble). In addition, there are some truly lovely arias exhibiting both musical and textual reflection and introspection. Stumme Seufzer, stille Klagen (“Silent Sighs, Quiet Complaints”; of course it couldn’t be the fault of my translation abilities, right?) is a truly sighing, complaining aria featuring the expressive oboe tones of our own Frank de Bruine. Another aria highlights our principal violist, Jane Rogers, in an aria originally written for obbligato viola but later re-worked by Bach in a different key for cello piccolo, a more frequently heard version. Admittedly, not many violists can match our Jane for musicality and beauty. Finally, there is an aria accompanied by the strings and a happy gigue aria with tutti strings and oboe declaring, “How Happy is my Heart.” I suppose it stopped swimming.

The middle section of the program features core members of the group in two instrumental concertos. Frank returns and is joined by Pavlo Bezosniuk, our concertmaster, in the lively Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor. This is an AAM favorite and the two soloists play it beautifully. There is a description of the work on the AAM website which I will quote here in full, as Stephen Rose can evoke it so much better than I:

Proof of Bach’s absorption of Vivaldi comes in his Concerto in C minor for oboe and violin BWV1060. This double concerto comes down to us as a piece for two harpsichords, but its original form was almost certainly for violin and oboe. Vivaldian features include the constant forward momentum and the choice of ritornello that is memorable for its rhythmic buoyancy. Unlike Vivaldi, though, Bach does not focus on sheer instrumental virtuosity, instead placing the two soloists in dialogue with each other and also with the rest of the orchestra. The playfulness of this dialogue is brought to perfection in the first movement, where the oboe and violin cheekily echo the ends of phrases. In the slow movement, the two soloists spin out melodies that wrap around each other, while the finale adds a touch of fiery energy.

Musical director and harpsichordist extraordinaire Richard Egarr gets his moment in the virtuosic spotlight in the Concerto in D minor. Definitely one of Bach’s Top Hits, this piece retains its freshness and incredible complexity even after being heard/played in infinite variations. It is based on a lost violin concerto which Bach reworked, making it even more technical and virtuosic than the original must have been.

Elizabeth rejoins us for the final work of the evening in Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen, BWV 51 (“Praise God in all Lands”). The two cantatas on the program represent exactly half of Bach’s sacred cantata output for solo soprano but the two works could not be more different. Where BWV 199 is introspective and rueful, BWV 51 is an overflowing of joyous praise. We are joined by star trumpeter David Blackadder who deftly and adroitly throws out high C’s like there’s no tomorrow, as does Elizabeth. The first and last movements are an exciting display of flamboyant virtuosity while the second aria is slightly more somber as the soloist sings to the accompaniment of basso continuo only and the penultimate movement is for two solo violins (Pavlo and Rodolfo) with the soprano singing the chorale as a cantus firmus.

This concert is a wonderful overview of Bach’s genius, both sacred and secular, and gives many members of the orchestra a chance to shine. Here’s hoping it goes well in Inverness!

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