Wednesday 20 June 2018

Humanity & warmth - Solomon's Knot at the Bach Weekend at the Barbican

Solomon's Knot
Solomon's Knot
Johann Sebastian Bach, Johann Christoph Bach; Solomon's Knot; St Gile's Church, Barbican Centre
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford on 16 June 2018 Star rating: 4.5 (★★★★½)
Motets by JS Bach and his cousin JC Bach from this conductorless ensemble

The Barbican Centre has been celebrating Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s 75th birthday with seven concert over three days, with events in the Barbican Hall, St Giles’ Cripplegate, Milton Court and LSO St Luke’s. Gardiner used some of his players and singers from the 2000 Bach Cantata Pilgrimage in combination with some newcomers. The Bach takeover weekend also provided ample opportunity to hang out in the Centre, drinking coffee, catching up with old friends and fighting off the ubiquitous pigeons.

The Saturday afternoon concert (16 June 2018) was given by Solomon's Knot in a packed-out St Giles’ Church. It contrasted motets by Johann Sebastian Bach with those written by his father’s cousin Johann Christoph. The older Bach worked at Eisenach and was described by his younger cousin as ‘the profound composer’ – ‘as good at inventing beautiful thoughts as he was at expressing words’.

Johann Christoph’s word settings were more straightforward on the whole, and Solomon’s Knot provided a great sense of theatre for them, notably the first entry of ‘Furchte dich nicht’ (Fear not) which was pretty fear-inducing in its own right, and in great contrast to Johann Sebastian’s longer setting which emphasised ‘Ich stärke dich’ (I will strengthen thee). Another hard-hitting setting from the older Bach was ‘Der Gerechte, ob er gleich zu zeitlich stirbt | Ist er doch in der Ruhe’ (The righteous, though they may die too soon, is nevertheless at peace) from the Book of Wisdom. The pieces that pre-date the complicated counterpoint and fugues of JS certainly drive their message home.

With the motets by Johann Sebastian we were in familiar territory but we were forced to listen more attentively than usual because the singers were performing without a conductor and from memory. Solomon’s Knot describes itself as a ‘collective’ – a flexible group of singers, instrumentalists and others. I reviewed their theatrical B minor Mass [see Ruth's review] and their Baroque opera L’ospedale [see Ruth's review] so was intrigued to see how they would deal with memorising all those fugues.

The continuo organist Michael Papadopoulos was sitting behind the group and accompanying rather than directing from the keyboard. The eight singers’ dress code was clearly ‘wear what you like’ and the group’s movements were clearly for the benefit of the music and the text rather than for a unified stage look. Likewise the sound. We heard eight individuals. I am sure these singers can blend when they are asked to, but that’s not what Solomon’s Knot are about. They are about communicating directly with their audience and with each other, and this created a humanity and warmth that went down very well with the audience. The chorales felt like a place of safety after the exhilaration of the semiquavers and the fugues, no more so than in ‘Singet dem Herrn nein neues Lied’.
Reviewed by Ruth Hansford

Saturday 16 June 3pm
Johann Christoph Bach (1642–1703) ‘Fürchte dich nicht’
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) ‘Fürchte dich nicht’, BWV228 
‘Komm, Jesu, komm’, BWV229
Johann Christoph Bach
‘Lieber Herr Gott, wecke uns auf’
Johann Sebastian Bach
‘Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden’, BWV230
Johann Christoph Bach ‘Herr, nun lässest du deinen Diener’
Johann Sebastian Bach ‘Jesu, meine Freude’, BWV227
Johann Christoph Bach ‘Der Gerechte, ob er gleich zu zeitlich stirbt’
Johann Sebastian Bach ‘Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied’, BWV225
Solomon’s Knot . Jonathan Sells director

Elsewhere on this blog:
  • 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
  • Musical beauty: new production of Lohengrin at Covent Garden  (★★★½) - Opera review
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