Mallarmé Chamber Players and the Choral Society of Durham whetted music lovers' appetite for the treasures of J.S. Bach cantatas in a too short series back in 2010-11. Duke University has given a great boon to the Triangle community in the form seven FREE concerts in Duke Chapel featuring Bach's cantatas and music of his contemporaries. This performance featured Capella Baroque and The Bach Choir. The able director, Brian A. Schmidt, is Assistant Conductor and Administrative Coordinator of Duke Chapel music. He is also Artistic Director of the professional South Dakota Chorale. Members of the later ensemble were peppered in the Bach choir and served as most of the vocal soloists for this concert.
The concert opened with a rousing performance of Bach's Chorale Prelude: "Wer nur den lieben Gott lässt walten," S. 642, upon Duke Chapel's mighty Flentrop 1976 which dominated the huge arch separating the narthex and nave. The Prelude is drawn from Orgelbüchlein (Little Organ Book) – forty-six preludes composed in Weimar 1708-17. The organ pedal is obbligato allowing players to master its use. Christopher Jacobson brought out all the power and color of the instrument.
Bach's cantata, "Siehe zu, dass deine Gottesfurcht nicht Heuchelei," S. 179 (See to it, that your fear of God be not hypocrisy) comes from Bach's first year in Weimar. Its six movements are scored for soprano, tenor, bass soloists, a four-part choir, 2 oboes and oboes da caccia, violins, viola, and basso continuo. The continuo for this concert consisted of cellist Stephanie Vial, Robbie Link on fretted violone, and Elliott Figg and Jackie Nappi rotating duties on harpsichord and chamber organ. Soprano Julianna Emanski, tenor John Grau, and bass Brandon Hendrickson were models of polished diction and beautifully trained vocal quality. Their vocal tones were gorgeous. Hendrickson's extended recitative was sonorous. The delight of this cantata is the soprano aria, "Liebster Gott, erbarme dich," with the mellifluous voice of Emanski blending with the mellow oboes da caccia spun by Willam Thauer and Sarah Huebusch.
Next came a marvelous setting of "Quaemadmodum desiderat cervus," BuxWV92 by Dietrich Buxtehude (c. 1637-1707). According to Andrus Madsen (at allmusic.com) it is a pseudo-Augustinian adaptation of Psalm 42: 2-3. Originally for tenor, soprano Emanski brought plenty of vocal fireworks in a ciaconne-like setting with soloist alternating, contrasting, or blending polyphonically with a pair of violins above a two-note ostinato bass in the large continuo. The superb violinists were Fiona Hughes and Matvey Lapin. Vial, Link, and Nappi on chamber organ anchored the bass line.
In contrast to the brilliant highs of the Buxtehude, sepulchral richness was plumbed in the motet "Himmel und Erde vergehen," SWV 300 by Heinrich Schütz (1585-1672). It is No. 19 from the 23 pieces in his Kleine Geistliche Konzerte I and is a setting for three basses and continuo. The deep, rich interleaving of the singers, Brandon Hendrickson, Joseph Hubbard, and Tom McNichols, was breathtaking and fully satisfying.
Three trumpets (surprisingly all-valved) and timpani added to the brilliance of Bach's cantata "Wir danken dir, Gott, wir danken dir," S. 29 which capped this concert with style. It was composed in 1731 for Ratswechsel, the inauguration of the new appointed town council in Leipzig. It gave the composer, freed of prescribed liturgical needs, plenty of scope to show off his skills before the largest number of the Elector's administration as well as his immediate new employers. The cantata is in eight movements. Music from the first choral movement was adapted for two later works, his Missa (Kyrie and Gloria) for the Dresden Court, which was expanded and incorporated within his Mass in B minor.
Cantata No. 29 is scored for four vocal soloists (soprano, alto, tenor, and bass), a four-part chorus, and a Baroque orchestra consisting of three trumpets, timpani, two oboes, violins (solo in movement 3), viola, obbligato organ, and basso continuo. The soloists were soprano Andrea Edith Moore, tenor Grau, Hubbard, bass, and counter tenor Reginald Mobley who was outstanding. The stirring Sinfonia featured dazzling brass while Figg raced about the chamber organ's keyboard in its challenging part adapted from the solo violin part from the Preludio from S. 1006.
All the vocalists were superb, delivering the text with clear diction and singing with warm tones and well-balanced vocal support across their ranges. The pairing of soprano Moore's voice with Hughes expressive violin was resplendent.
This cantata series is quickly turning into the Triangle's not-to-be missed event. The first concert had a few nonmusical problems. Many local early music concerts in the chapel have easily accommodated in the choir area beyond the transept. A 600+ audience was unexpected. This performance took place in the transept. A set-parking fee collected upon arrival cured delays experienced at the first September 11 concert. Both luxurious programs contained full texts and translations. Conductor Schmidt gave brief comments before each piece. The program for the first concert included written notes too.