The Well-Tempered Ear

This Wednesday, Just Bach debuts its free 30-minute online concert of solo and chamber organ music with a sing-along cantata chorale

January 19, 2021
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear has received the following announcement to post: 

Happy New Year from Just Bach!

We hope this finds you all well, and ready to experience more of the timeless beauty of music by Johann Sebastian Bach (below, 1685-1750) in 2021, because we have a lovely new program ready to debut on this Wednesday, Jan. 20, at 8 a.m. (It will stay up indefinitely after the premiere, so you can listen to it before or after the Inauguration of President Joe Biden and Vice-President Kamala Harris.)

As regular performers on Luther Memorial Church’s weekly “Music at Midday” concert series, Just Bach presents half-hour programs on the third Wednesday of each month. The spring semester’s dates are: Jan. 20, Feb. 17, March 17, April 21 and May 19. 

Our online concerts — Dave Parminter is the videographer — are posted early Wednesday mornings at 8 a.m. on the Just Bach and Luther Memorial YouTube Channels. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcyVFEVsJwklHAx9riqSkXQ

Viewing the virtual concerts is free to the public, but we ask those who are able to help us pay our musicians with a tax-deductible donation at https://www.paypal.com/donate/?cmd=_s-xclick…

Our January concert opens with Just Bach co-founder and Grammy-nominated soprano Sarah Brailey (below) – a graduate student at the UW-Madison — providing welcoming remarks. 

The program offers two trio sonatas from the set of six that Bach composed for solo organ. Bruce Bengston (below) will perform Sonata No. 4 in E Minor, BWV 528, on the big Austin organ up in the church’s balcony.

Then Bruce will switch to the small portative organ and join violinist Kangwon Kim (below top) and violist Marika Fischer Hoyt (below middle) in a performance of Sonata No. 2 in C Minor, BWV 526, arranged for violin, viola and organ continuo (a rehearsal photo is below bottom).

Sarah, who also recorded herself paying a cello part, closes the program with the final chorale from Cantata 149 —Ach Herr, laß dein lieb Engelein (Ah, Lord, let your dear little angel) — a powerfully transcendent movement that Bach also used to close the St. John Passion. (You can hear it in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

We encourage viewers to sing along by following the chorale sheet music, which will be displayed on the computer screen as Sarah sings and Bruce accompanies on the organ.

The world needs this soul-centering music now more than ever. Please join us this Wednesday, Jan. 20.

 


Posted in Classical music
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Classical music: The Madison Summer Choir celebrates its 10th anniversary with one of the best concerts of the year

July 20, 2018
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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 hosts an early music show once a month on Sunday morning on WORT-FM 89.9 FM. For years, he served on the Board of Advisors for the Madison Early Music Festival and frequently gives pre-concert lectures in Madison. He also took the performance photos.

By John W. Barker

The Madison Summer Choir (below) celebrated its 10th anniversary on Wednesday night at the First Congregational United Church of Christ.

Each year’s program has had a theme, and for this one it was “Old Wine in New Bottles”— though it might as well have been the other way ‘round.

The idea, though, was that the selections showed their composers looking back to the techniques and tastes of earlier generations while writing new music. Conductor Ben Luedcke (below) introduced each work to explain how such approaches worked out.

The first half of the program was devoted to four works, dating from three different centuries.

Two were by contemporary composers. A setting in English of the Psalm text “By the Waters of Babylon” by Sarah Riskind (below top) was followed by Amor de mi Ami, a tribute to his wife, in Spanish, by Randall Stroope (below bottom).

Each work had instrumental additions — in the first, piano with cello, in the second, just piano) which personally I found unnecessary. Riskind’s choral writing is attractively full and quite idiomatic, while Stroope achieves a natural lyricism. I would be interested to hear just the choral parts alone for each work. (Editor’s Note: You can hear the work by Randall Stroope in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

These two items were framed by music of earlier epochs. The Geistliches Lied (Spiritual Song) by Johannes Brahms showed his ability to create his own version of both pre- and post-Baroque polyphony. And Mozart’s Psalm setting Laudate pueri, from one of his Vespers collections (K. 339), showed his assimilation of Baroque counterpoint.

Bruce Bengtson played the part Brahms included for organ (or piano), and he also played the organ reduction of the orchestral part for the Mozart.

It was partly the acoustics, but also a weakness in diction that made the words in those four pieces all but indistinguishable, in whatever language was being sung—my one serious criticism of the performances.

The second part of the program was devoted to the first of the numbered Mass settings by Anton Bruckner. In some ways, such large-scale sacred works were studies for his majestic symphonies yet to come.

In this Mass No. 1 in D minor, Bruckner saw himself in the line of earlier Austrian church music, but anyone expecting bald imitations of Haydn, Mozart or Beethoven would be disappointed.

In his dense and highly chromatic writing — something like a step beyond Schubert — Bruckner created some very fascinating music. It reached really exciting power in the Credo, and the words “dona nobis pacem” at the conclusion had a deeply moving sense of serenity.

The choir, of 68 mixed voices, was joined for the Bruckner by four soloists — Chelsie Propst, Jessica Lee Timman, Peter Gruett, Christian Bester (below on the left) — who sang their parts handsomely, and by an orchestra of 30 players, who provided strong and sturdy support.

Luedcke deserves particular praise for giving a chance to hear the Bruckner Mass, which was thought to be its Madison premiere. It climaxed a really enterprising event, one that I think will stand as among the Best Concerts of the Year.


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