Tuesday 15 November 2016

Celebrating 40 years of Bach cantatas in the City with the City Bach Collective

Peter Lea-Cox and members of the City Bach Collective at the 40th Anniversary Concert - photo  Joseph Ford Thompson
Peter Lea-Cox and members of the City Bach Collective at the 40th Anniversary Concert
photo  Joseph Ford Thompson
Bach Cantatas BWV 61, & BWV 62; City Bach Collective; St Mary at Hill
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Nov 11 2016
A pair of Advent cantatas performed with the size of forces Bach might have expected

It is 40 years since Peter Lea-Cox started the Bach cantata series at the City church of St Mary at Hill. The City Bach Cantata Series celebrated the event with a lunch time concert at St. Mary at Hill on Friday 11 November 2016, when the City Bach Collective, Nicola Corbishley (soprano), Patricia Hammond (alto), Christopher Bowen (tenor), Cheyney Kent (bass) and instrumental ensemble directed from the violin by Hazel Brookes, performed JS Bach's Cantata BWV 61 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland and Cantata BWV 62 Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland.

Since 1982 the Bach cantata series has been associated with the performance of Bach's cantatas in the context of Vespers at St Anne's Lutheran Church (whose congregation now worships at St Mary at Hill), and there is a chance to hear the performers again in BWV 62 on 27 November 2016 in Vespers at St Mary at Hill (see the image of the poster for further details).

BWV 61 dates from 1714 when Bach was in Weimar, with BWV 62 dating from 1724 when Bach was in Leipzig. The two use the same text for the opening chorus but apart from that the text and layouts are completely different. The selection of the solo voices provided tempting hints about what Bach's strongest soloists were.

With the instrumentalists playing one to part and just four singers providing both solos and chorus this was a performance on the sort of scale Bach might have expected on a regular Sunday.
For the opening choruses and closing chorales the four singers stood interspersed with the instrumental players. We started with BWV 61 where the opening chorus began with each singer in turn intoning a line of the chorale against a stately orchestral texture, before developing a fully worked choral texture against a lively dance in the strings.

The tenor recitative from Christopher Bowen was admirably direct with good attention to the words, the subsequent tenor arias proved surprisingly perky considering the sober subject (Christ blessing the Church). The following bass recitative from Cheyney Kent was quiet but vivid, accompanied by striking string pizzicato.

The soprano aria, accompanied by just cello (Mary Pells) and organ (Simon Lloyd), combined a gentle vocal line, sung with long bright tones by Nicola Corbishley, with moving bass on the cello. The concluding chorale was busy and complex, with a multi-layered texture which worked well with the single-performer ethos.

The opening chorus of BWV 62 was striking indeed. Oboes and horn joined the strings, and after a vivid sinfonia with burbling oboes over busy (almost hectic) strings, we had a complex texture of voices and strings with the chorale on the horn (placed challengingly high in the horn's register), thus creating a large-scale structure.

The tenor aria was up tempo triple time with a lovely swing to it and some fine passagework from Bowen. In the bass recitative, Kent really brought out the words admirably, and there followed a toe tapping aria where Kent gave us some pretty spectacular passage-work, taken at quite a lively tempo. A striking recitative from Corbishley and Hammond singing in harmony led to the relatively straight forward chorale.

This is not easy music. I suspect that the performers had more rehearsal than the first 'come and sing' sight-reading challenge of the early performances in the series, but this was still a significant achievement on probably limited rehearsal time. The very full church provided a good audience, and amongst those present was Peter Lea-Cox who started the whole thing.

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