Tuesday 18 September 2012

HIP Bach at St. Martins

St. Martin in the Fields
The Feinstein Ensemble and the London Bach Singers, directed by Martin Feinstein, are making three appearances at St. Martin in the Fields, Trafalgar Square, giving us all an opportunity to hear their historically informed brand of Bach, complete with just one singer per part. They will be performing two programmes of Bach cantatas  and extracts from the Christmas Oratorio on 20 September, 25 October and 24 November.

The ensemble have received warm reviews for their Bach performances on the South Bank and it will be interesting to hear them in St. Martin in the Fields, probably a rather more sympathetic acoustic than the South Bank. Performing Bach with single singers requires soloists who are prepared to go that extra mile and  sing the choral parts as well. In the cantatas this involves mainly singing chorales, but of course in the Christmas Oratorio, there are substantial choruses as well. The Christmas Oratorio is made up of six different cantatas, which Bach performed striped over the Octave of the Nativity.

Singing with just one singer per part was a fairly standard Lutheran tradition and it is reasonably certain that this is the style of performance that Bach used for his cantatas. Given his rather limited resources, he probably couldn't manage to do much else on ordinary days. Where the discussion arises is how 'special' the bigger works were, whether there were extra singers brought in. We need no go into that here, but just appreciate the clarity of texture and vibrancy of line that a single singer performances can bring. (For those interested in reading more on the subject, I can recommend Andrew Parrott's book The Essential Bach Choir)

Their 20 September concert includes Brandenburg Concerto no 4, plus cantatas 152, 106 (Actus Tragicus) and 182. The 25 October concert includes Brandenburg Concerto no 5, plus cantatas 9, 94 and 78. Then on 24 November they perform parts 1, 2, 3 and 6 of the Christmas Oratorio. The singers will be Faye Newton (soprano), William Purefoy (alto), Nicholas Hurndall-Smith (tenor) and Ben Davies (bass)

Further information from the Feinstein Ensemble website, or the St. Martin in the Fields website.

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