BACH AKADEMIE AUSTRALIA : CANTATAS FOR CHRISTMAS-COMFORT AND JOY. CHRIST CHURCH ST LAURENCE

Above : Artistic Director of Bach Akadamie Australia, violinist Madeleine Easton

This was an effective event to both springboard us into Advent and to  celebrate the glory of J S Bach’s instrumental and vocal writing. Bach Akademie Australia’s Artistic Director Madeleine Easton led
the forces with grace, sensitivity, energetic emotional focus and an engaging Baroque swagger.

This Christmas concert contained crisply articulated rendering of instrumental and vocal works. It was at all times indeed a comfort to listen to, with its elevated tone putting us firmly in the Christmas spirit.

Performers filled the Christ Church St Lawrence with a well-guided expressive lilt in the instrumental and choral works alike. Joy resulted in this celebration of the Christmas story and the diversity of Bach’s reliable genius.

The highlight for me in this all-Bach historically informed performance buffet was easily the third and final cantata of the night. An impressive assembly of experienced early music instrumental and vocal experts gifted us the Cantata BWV 191 ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’.

A full orchestra of over twenty players ably supported the excitement of soloists and full Bach Akademie Australia Choir. Together they gave us some of Bach’s well known material from the B minor Mass’ Gloria in its original guise.

As in all cantatas presented during this concert, the performance of Bach’s Gloria text setting was a pleasing outpouring of control from singers and instrumentalists. There was a breathtaking jubilation in the collaboration,with historically informed phrasing and articulation choices also imbued with exciting drama.

The Latin text in these stanzas of praise were deftly drawn for us by the choir of experienced Baroque singers with beautifully blended soloists from its ranks. The balance was delicately honed throughout.

Prior to inverval, the Orchestral Suite No 2 in B minor BWV 1067 provided a well characterised oasis from the dense narratives of the Christian nativity miracle. In a fine showcase for Mikaela Oberg on Baroque Flute, the seven movements including dance structure were well contrasted.

Above : This concert featured traverso flute player Mikaela Oberg.

In what was perhaps a world record for athletic fast tempo choice here in the final Badinerie, Oberg had her work cut out for her but rose to the occasion. Musical shape and gesture remained nicely intact despite such a choice of velocity to conclude a vivid performance of this suite’s contrasting colours.

The remainder of this concert celebrated Bach’s elaborate ease of text setting in cantatas for Christmas. These charming works were presented with clear
and eloquent narration.

To begin the concert, the intimate environment of the Saviour’s birth was gently rendered in the cantata Susser Trost BWV 151 by soloist Anna Sandström. Support from the twenty-three piece orchestra enabled the rejoicing to unfold smoothly and with interesting nuance.

The thirteen vocalists of the choir performed the cantata chorales with renewed warmth and extended brightness. These solid moments enabled us to step outside the detailed commentary of the rest of each work.

As shown later in the Gloria, the Bach Akademie Australia Choir has tremendous power in reserve and a stunning range of tone colours in their arsenal. These were particularly enhanced by the church acoustic.

Such group power was employed tastefully and authentically in this cantata and later in the concert when we were treated to Part Two of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio BWV 248. Madeleine Easton’s guidance and attention to the details of music and text combined reinforced the study of comfort, joy and sweetness surrounding the Christ Child. Satisfying results were created
through dynamic performances of Bach’s solo and duet writing.

These cantatas were fantastic choices for a Christmas concert. They were demanding enough to display the virtuosity of musicianship and instrumental or vocal skill from the assembled musicians. Solos and duets were spread across the different but choir members.

It also continued the supply of key Bach works to audiences live, on this occasion attractively packaged to reveal the composer’s abilities as a working musician at the Christmas season.

 

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