The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Madison Bach Musicians return to their roots in moving and impressive renditions of two cantatas and two concertos. | October 6, 2014

By Jacob Stockinger

Here is a special posting, a review written by frequent guest critic and writer for this blog, John W. Barker. Barker (below) is an emeritus professor of Medieval history at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He also is a well-known classical music critic who writes for Isthmus and the American Record Guide, and who for 20 years hosted an early music show every other Sunday morning on WORT FM 89.9 FM. He serves on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison.

John Barker

By John W. Barker

Trevor Stevenson’s Madison Bach Musicians (below) returned to their core commitment in their first concert of the new season – their 11th — devoted entirely to Johann Sebastian Bach, and focused on his sacred cantatas.

Kangwon KIm with Madison Bach Musicians

There were two of the cantatas,  written for solo voices without choir. The accompanying ensemble consisted of a quartet of string players, with harpsichord, reproducing the scale of performance that Bach himself would have used.

By far the best-known of Bach’s solo cantatas is No. 82, “Ich habe genug” (“I Am Content,” the title aria of which can be heard sung by the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer Dieskau at the bottom in a YouTube video). In the cantata the believer confronts death with the comfort of faith. Though the composer adapted it for female voice, this work was written for baritone, and is most frequently performed and recorded that way. In two of the three arias, an obbligato oboe is added for creating a kind of duet.

Baritone Joshua Copeland (below top) offered strong and nicely shaped singing, with a fine German diction. The oboe playing by Baroque oboe expert Luke Conklin (below bottom) was beautifully eloquent.

Joshua Copeland BW

Luke Conklin

The other cantata, No. 58, “Ach Gott, manches Herzeleid” (O God, What Heartache) is a duet cantata, but with a novel (if typically Bachian) spin: in two framing arias, the baritone sings reflected texts, while the soprano intones the melody of Lutheran chorales. The central aria, however, is hers alone, and Chelsea Morris (below) — a now-beloved Madison familiar — revealed her expressive artistry with stronger, more ringing power than we have yet heard from her.

Chelsea Morris soprano

Flanking the two cantatas were examples of Bach’s concerto writing.

To begin, only the first movement was played of the Harpsichord Concerto in D minor (BWV 1052), with Stevenson himself as the soloist, though his work was richly integrated with the string playing.

At the end came the now-standard reconstruction of Bach’s lost Concerto for Violin and Oboe, based on its survival as a Two-Harpsichord Concerto (BWV 1060). For this, most of the players (joined by a supplemental violinist) chose to play standing up. Without slighting the always vivacious playing of violinist Kangwon Kim (below), it must be admitted that the show was stolen by the beautifully colored and nuanced playing of oboist Conklin. The performance was truly stunning, bringing the audience to its feet in appropriate excitement. It proved a truly wonderful example of MBM presentation at its best!

Kangwon Kim

The Saturday night performance was given in the recently rebuilt sanctuary of Christ Presbyterian Church, a new and acoustically stimulating venue for Stephenson to explore.

As always, Stephenson (below) himself prefaced the concert with his own lecture, delivered with his usual charm and humor, and this time not only discussing the music on the program, but giving in 40 minutes a virtual course in Baroque music-making.

Prairie Rhapsody 2011 Trevor Stephenson

Coming next is their fourth annual Christmas Concert, which always features unusual Renaissance and Baroque fare for the holiday season. It takes place on Saturday, December 13,  with a 7:15 p.m. lecture and an 8 p.m. concert at the First Congregational United Church of Christ at 1609 University Avenue — something not to be missed.

For more information, go to: http://madisonbachmusicians.org

 

 

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