The Choral Society of Durham Chamber Choir and the Mallarmé Chamber Players presented a concert titled Historical Bach Redux. J.S. Bach wrote a lot of music, some of it perfectly preserved, some of it lost other than vague or specific references and some of it in poor state. Thus the term redux, meaning "brought back, restored." Some of the music on today’s program was restored or reconstructed; all of it was brought back to life by the artistry of the singers and instrumentalists performing today.
The program opened with the Harpsichord Concerto No. 5 in F Minor, S. 1056, one of six such concertos written for the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig. It is scored for strings, continuo and harpsichord. The soloist was Elaine Funaro, a leader in promoting new music for the harpsichord, as well as an accomplished interpreter of early music for her instrument. Her fingers traced remarkable sounds on keyboard.
The first and third movements presented lively music in conversation between the soloist and the strings. The middle movement featured an aria in the right hand for the soloist. Sweet and gentle in a minor key, it may have sounded hauntingly familiar for those who listened to the Swingle Singers in their heyday in the sixties since it was in their popular repertoire.
The cantata Aus der Tiefe rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, S.131 was performed. It was written during Bach’s days in Mulhausen near the same time he wrote the Actus Tragicus cantata S.106. Both works were likely responses to the disastrous fire that occurred in the town shortly before Bach arrived there. Both, written when he was just 22, are masterpieces of form, structure and emotional expressiveness. Actus Tragicus in its expression of grief and comfort, and Aus der Tiefe in its expression of penitence and hope are “perfect examples of Bach’s earliest significant music, vividly colourful, highly expressive, technically adept and stylistically innovative.” (J Mincham 2010, http://www.bach-cantatas.com/BWV79.htm)
The cantata is scored for strings, continuo (Jane Lynch played the harpsichord in this performance), bassoon and oboe. It begins witha somber choral statement from the opening verse of the Psalm (130) and then moves into a more hopeful fugal passage. One of the most notable aspects of this cantata is Bach’s treatment of the two arias; one for bass and one for tenor, sung beautifully by Michael Lyle and Jeremy Jee. Underneath the solo voice sopranos, in the bass aria and altos in the tenor aria, softly intone a chorale giving an ethereal sound to the overall effect. It was exquisitely done by the choir.
Another notable aspect of this cantata is the text-driven nature of its structure. There are no recitatives, and Bach seems to be aiming towards getting the message of the text directly delivered through the musical structure. One can almost sense Bach the preacher, the pastor here.
After intermission, the program resumed with members of the Mallarmé Chamber Players introducing some unique Baroque instruments to the audience: the piccolo violin, the Baroque oboe and bassoon, and the hunting horns; all of which were employed, along with added tympani, in the familiar Brandenburg Concerto No 1 in F, S. 1046. There are many delights in this piece; the lively first movement featuring the hunting horns in a daunting tour-de-force, the haunting adagio, the virtuosic third movement and the dancing Bach of the fourth movement. It was almost as though this music was written for the Mallarmé ensemble just last week. The performance was fresh, knowledgeable and satisfying and warmly received by the audience which nearly filled the inviting auditorium of the Hayti Heritage Center. The audience included visitors from Kostroma, Durham’s sister city in Russia.
Closing the concert was Gott der Herr is Sonn und Schild, S. 79, written in Leipzig for the Reformation Festival in October, 1725. It uses text from a variety of sources; a Psalm verse, two chorales and anonymous poetry. With the added tympani and hunting horns, it presents a most festive mood. The arias and recitative were sung by Christa Ann Bentley, soprano, Erica Dunkle, alto, and Timothy Turkington, bass. Oh yes, Rodney (a.k.a. PDQ) Wynkoop introduced some of the unique Baroque voices in today’s performance; small bore and large bore male voices, etc.
In his two volume study of Bach, Albert Schweitzer notes: “Music is an act of worship with Bach. . . . All great art, even secular, is in itself religious in his eyes; for him the tones do not perish, but ascend to God like praise too deep for utterance.” And that is all that needs to be said about this concert.