Monday 12 July 2021

Dark Matter and Bach: The Undiscovered Universe from the OAE and Dr Harry Cliff

The Undiscovered Universe - Bach, Byrd, Telemann and 'Dark Matter'; Bethany Horak-Hallett, Guy Cutting, William Gaunt, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Dr Harry Cliff, Steven Devine; Kings Place

The Undiscovered Universe
- Bach, Byrd, Telemann and 'Dark Matter'; Bethany Horak-Hallett, Guy Cutting, William Gaunt, Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, Dr Harry Cliff, Steven Devine; Kings Place

Reviewed by Robert Hugill on 11 July 2021 Star rating: 4.0 (★★★★)
Particle physics, Dark Matter and the Large Hadron Collider alongside wonderfully engaging Bach and more

The Undiscovered Universe, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment's latest edition of Bach, The Universe and Everything was due to premiere at Kings Place in December 2020, first postponed to May 2021, the concert finally happened on Sunday 11 July 2021. Steven Devine directed the OAE in Bach's cantata Ich steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe, BWV 156 with soloist Bethany Horak-Hallett, Guy Cutting and William Gaunt plus music by Byrd and Telemann and a talk by Dr Harry Cliff, a particle physicist from the University of Cambridge

We began with Steven Devine's delightful account of Bach's chorale prelude, Machs mit mir, Gott nach deiner Gut, followed by an unconducted performance of William Byrd's anthem Praise the Lord, all ye Gentiles, a setting of text from Psalm 117 first published in his 1611 Psalms, Songs and Sonnets, which opened things up with vivid brightness, yet there was delicacy too and a sense of the eight voices forming a real vocal ensemble with a sense of individual lines and voices.

Next, Dominika Feher (one of the OAE's violinists) read an intriguing extract from David Whyte's 2014 book Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words, a lovely poetic discussion about the meaning(s) of the word 'shadow'.

Bach's cantata Ich steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe was his fourth and last cantata for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, written in Leipzig in 1729.

It has become well known for its lovely opening sinfonia for oboe and strings, here rendered in a beautifully consoling manner by oboist Katharina Spreckelsen. There follows a pair of arias with recitatives and a final chorale. The opening movement combines aria (tenor, Guy Cutting) with a chorale from the choir sopranos, demonstrating the way Bach could create complexity from seemingly simple means (soprano chorale, tenor solo, string accompaniment), with both Cutting and the strings demonstrating great rhythmic vitality. Cutting was deft in the more complex passages, rhythmically alert with a lovely, mellifluous tone, though I could have wished for a little more emphasis on the words. Bass William Gaunt projected the two recitatives with thrilling bass tone. Mezzo-soprano Bethany Horak-Hallet managed to bring serious intent to the almost bubbly music that Bach wrote for the second aria, which combined voice with oboe and violin to lovely effect. We ended with the chorale, though as yet, audience members are still not allowed to join in, alas.

Dr Harry Cliff is a member one of the teams doing experiments using CERN's Large Hadron Collider and his talk was about this research but taken from the striking point of view of how much we do not know, hence the title The Undiscovered Universe. The result treated a complex subject in a lucid and engaging way, providing an insight into current researches in particle physics. Essentially, the universe is made up of 5% atoms, 27% dark matter and 68% dark energy, these latter two are things that scientists know exists but as yet cannot be found! The Dark in Dark Matter and Dark Energy simply means that we don't know what we are talking about. He ended with a summary of recent discoveries which hint at possible new understandings, bearing in mind that the last major break through, the discovery of the Higgs Boson was back in 2012.

We ended with the Allegro from Telemann's Oboe Concerto in C minor TWV 51:c1, a delightfully perky piece which made you want to hear the whole concerto.

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