Wednesday 20 June 2018

‘A well-regulated church music’ - John Eliot Gardiner at the Bach Weekend at the Barbican

Sir John Eliot Gardiner (Photo Chris Christodoulou)
Sir John Eliot Gardiner (Photo Chris Christodoulou)
Bach, Gabrieli, Sartorius; Monteverdi Choir, English Baroque Soloists, Sir John Eliot Gardiner; Barbican Centre
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on 16 June 2018 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Sir John Eliot Gardiner & his ensembles in Bach cantatas for Easter & Ascension

The evening concert on Saturday 16 June 2018 as part of the Barbican Centre's Bach Weekend celebrating Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s 75th birthday was the antithesis of Solomon’s Knot in the afternoon [see Ruth's review]. A maestro, a dress code, a certain reverential demeanour from all on stage and in the audience, and a general sense that this was An Event.
The Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists performed large-scale cantatas by JS Bach interspersed with a cappella motets in Latin by Giovanni Gabrieli and the German-born but Italian-educated Paul Sartorius (born Schneider). These were in great contrast to the Lutheran sound world of the rest of the concert, and yet there were elements – notably Gabrieli’s chromaticism and Sartorius’ punchiness – that we would hear in the Bach, reminding us that his influences were eclectic. To my ear there was something of Rameau in some of the chorales too.

The programme booklet drew attention to Bach’s letter to the church authorities at Mühlhausen stating his artistic aim to preside over ‘eine regulierte Kirchenmusik zu Gottes Ehren’ (‘a well-regulated church music to the honour of God’).
The programme explored pieces written for the period between Easter and Ascension. The first three cantatas explored aspects of death and mourning, and the evening ended with the most spectacular of all, the soloists spitting out fire and brimstone in competition with the extravagant orchestra (three wild trumpets and timpani). Just to be on the safe side, we had the final recitative and chorus again as an encore, to give us what Richard Wigmore in his programme notes described as ‘a shred of hope for deliverance from the terrors of eternity.

The Barbican audience knew what they wanted from this concert, and they got it. But it did lack the spontaneity that I craved after the motets of the afternoon. The band were certainly living up to their name as soloists, but for me a tricky by-product of the emphasis blend for the choir was that the step-out solos were quite variable. Not only was the long walk downstage rather clunky and disruptive, also vocally it seemed hard to negotiate the change from chorister to soloist. Some managed it better than others, notably the portentous mezzo recitative ‘Verlass, o Mensch, die Wollust dieser Welt’ (Forsake, O man, the pleasure of this world … it could be this very night that the coffin is brought to your door), and the subsequent alto-tenor duet with trippy double bass and cello in ‘O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort’. This was pure theatre.
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

Saturday 16 June 7.30pm
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) ‘Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen’, BWV12
Johann Sebastian Bach ‘Ihr werdet weinen und heulen’, BWV103
Giovanni Gabrieli (c1555–1612) Timor et tremor
Johann Sebastian Bach ‘O ewiges Feuer, o Ursprung der Liebe’, BWV34
Paul Sartorius (1569-1609) Veni, creator Spiritus, ‘Nun bitten wir den heiligen Geist’
Johann Sebastian Bach ‘O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort’, BWV20

Monteverdi Choir

English Baroque Soloists

Sir John Eliot Gardiner conductor

Hana Blažíková soprano
Sarah Denbee, Reginald Mobley altos
Hugo Hymas, Gareth Treseder tenors
Alex Ashworth, Peter Harvey, Samuel Pantcheff basses

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • Humanity & warmth - Solomon's Knot at the Bach Weekend at the Barbican  (★★★★½) - concert review
  • Handel Sonatas for violin and basso continuo (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Engaging rarity: Verdi's Un giorno di regno from Heidenheim (★★★★) - CD review
  • Rossini's Il barbiere di Siviglia at The Grange Festival (★★★★) - Opera review
  • Seriously unusual: Stephen Barlow introduces Buxton Festival's production of Verdi's Alzira - interview
  • Second View: Mozart's Cosi fan tutte at Opera Holland Park conducted by George Jackson (★★★★) - opera review
  • Sei solo: Bach's partitas and sonatas for violin alone from Thomas Bowles (★★★½) - CD review
  • Io la Musica son: Francesca Aspromonte in Prologue  (★★★★★) - CD review
  • Aldeburgh Festival: Britten and Bernstein side by side in Suffolk (★★★★★) - concert review
  • Young Artists performance of La Traviata at Opera Holland Park (★★★★½) - Opera review
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