Saturday, 27 March 2010

Bach Arias at the Barbican

On Tuesday we were back at the Barbican for a concert by the Munich Chamber Orchestra under their conductor Alexander Liebreich with soprano Mojca Erdmann (replacing an ill Christine Schäfer), baritone Matthias Goerne and violinist Hilary Hahn. Their concert was based around performances of J.S. Bach's arias for voice with violin obligato, taken from the cantatas, the Mass in B minor and the St Matthew Passion. To these, the orchestra added orchestra movements from suites by J.S. Bach and by his son C.P.E Bach.

The first half started with a sinfonia by C.P.E. Bach, followed by 3 arias from J.S. Bach, then another C.P.E Bach sinfonia and a further 3 J.S. Bach arias. The second half was similar in construction, except that the orchestra items were by J.S. Bach and there were two duets. This probably looked good on paper. But, rather than simply sitting to the side, the soloists were absent from the platform during the orchestral items. This mean that a relatively short concert was padded out rather over much with a great deal of walking to and fro by the soloists (to applause by the audience).

Yet again I was frustrated that an intelligent concert programme was spoiled by the presentation. The whole evening had the aura of a small scale recital for the Wigmore Hall which had been expanded to fit the Barbican. This feeling was intensified by the fact that all the cantata arias, and the two duets, were accompanied by just Hilary Hahn's violin and the continuo group. So that excellent Munich Chamber Orchestra spent quite a lot of time sitting doing nothing.

That said, there was some lovely singing and playing. Goerne was wonderful in the bass ariaJa Ja, Ich Halte Jesum feste from Cantata BWV 157, but elsewhere he seemed restless on stage when not actually singing. His duet with Mojca Erdmann from Cantata BWV 140 was truly ravishing. The evening closed with another duet, from Cantata BWV 158, which meant that the orchestra didn't actually play in the last item!

One curiosity was the soprano version of Erbarme dich from the St. Matthew Passion in Mendelssohn's arrangement.

The orchestra brought on the oboist Claire Sirijacobs in the final duet and the flautist Henrik Wiese in two items including a movement from Bach's Suite No. 2. One fascinating curiosity was that Wiese played in a dog collar and so is, presumably, an ordained clergyman!

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