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Early Music, Vocal Music Review

A Musical Dissertation

October 5, 2003 - Durham, NC:

When soprano Elizabeth Linnartz was living in Manila in 1996, she ordered the music for a bunch of Bach cantatas featuring duets for soprano and bass that she and a local musician planned to work up for performance. Her stay, however, was short-lived, and the music languished on her shelf until she began working on her Doctorate in Musical Arts (DMA) at UNCG. At that point, she dusted off these cantatas - seldom performed in concert because they had been written for soloists without chorus - and made them the subject of her doctoral dissertation, The Neglected Cantatas of J. S. Bach: Dialogue, Drama, Desire. Since the dissertation was for a performance degree, we were present for the last of the concerts making up the performance component.

Accompanied by an ad hoc, but impressive, assembly of instrumentalists, dubbed the Triangle Bach Consort, including baritone James Weaver, Chapel organist David Arcus, oboist Michael Schulz, Violinists Rebekah Binford and Ariadna Bazarnak-Ilika, violist Phyllis Whitlow, cellist John McClellan, bassist Robby Link and harpsichordist Jane Lynch, Linnartz performed two of the eight cantatas with duet-dialogues between Jesus and the Soul.

Because the performance was part of her dissertation, Linnartz began with a short précis of her work, citing the medieval genealogy of the dramatic dialogue as part the Catholic church service, the function of the cantata in the Lutheran liturgy, and the particular qualities of these dialogues in Bach's oeuvre. A bonus, included in the program were not only the German texts and their English translation, but a "cheat sheet" with a play-by-play of all Bach's tone panting, or rhetorical "affects," as they occur in each number.

She then launched into a delightful hour of somewhat hackneyed text, but sublime music, masterfully performed, of Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen , ( I go and search for You with longing) BWV 49 and Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen (Beloved Jesus, my desire), BWV 32. The centerpiece of both cantatas was the soprano-baritone duets, in which the Soul seeks to become the bride of Christ, with both singers indulging freely in the frankly sensuous imagery of the earthly wedding as symbolic of the eternal bond.

Linnartz has an excellent voice for this repertory by our standards, although she isn't a "period instrument" boy soprano: not too much vibrato, a flexible range for the composer's grueling demands, and fine diction. Weaver was an excellent match (no pun intended). Anyone familiar with Bach's arias knows that of equal importance to the singers is the instrumental soloist, (or soloists) who accompanies them with a ritornello that both introduces and rounds off the singer's part and provides important counterpoint. Despite the Chapel's difficult acoustics, the instrumentalists were in virtually perfect balance with the singers and with each other. Special praise goes to Schulz, who managed the almost impossible task of keeping his inherently more strident oboe d'amore on the same dynamic level with violist Whitlow in the aria "Ich bin herrlich, ich bin schön" From Cantata No.49.

The most interesting number on the program was the bass aria "Dich hab je, und je geliebet," also from Cantata No.49, accompanied by the soprano singing the chorale "Wie bin ich doch so herrlich froh" above him. In this number, the chorale in long notes takes the full time of the bass' da capo aria to create a true chorale prelude for voices with the instrumentalists, a device Bach uses for his choruses but seldom for soloists.

Although the cantatas frequently show up around here as part of church services, Lutheran or otherwise, there is precious little Bach being performed by our high quality professional musicians for public consumption. Linnartz may have whipped up the Triangle Bach Consort for her own needs, but she should consider pressing them into action on further occasions.