Monday, July 14, 2014
The American Bach Soloists opened their annual fortnight summer Festival & Academy at the San Francisco Conservatory on Friday evening with a concert entitled Bach's Inspiration that consisted of one unexpectedly beautiful musical treat after another.
The concert started with a short, wild cantata by J.S. Bach's older cousin, Johann Christoph Bach, taken from the Book of Revelation entitled Es erhub sich ein Streit im Himmel about the war in heaven between Michael and his angels and Satan and his dragon, complete with drums, brass, five soloists and an exquisite chamber chorus. Leading the energetic violin section was Elizabeth Blumenstock and Robert Mealy above.
This was followed by Jesu, meines Lebens Leben, a chorale for four soloists and the same chorus from one of J.S. Bach's composing heroes, Dieterich Buxtehude, that was similarly expressive.
Derek Chester above was the tenor soloist for Johann Kuhnau's early 18th century cantata Wie schon leutet der Morgenstern, with Chester weaving in an out of the chamber orchestra and chorus quite elegantly.
The only dull spot on the program was Frederick the Great's Concerto for Flute in C Major (#3), which brought to mind Gordon Getty's subsidized compositions, though at least Frederick mostly confined himself to composing tranverse flute sonatas, which was his own instrument. Sandra Miller performed her best on Friday, but after the great choral music, it felt like a letdown. There was no such problem with Alessandro Marcello's 1717 Concerto for Oboe in D Minor, dispatched by the small orchestra and soloist Debra Nagy above with stylish energy, helped by the fact that the piece is one of the best Italian style concerti ever written.
The wonderful capstone of the evening was J.S. Bach's rewrite of Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, which is called Tilge, Hochster, meine Sunden in German. Possibly because good Lutheran Protestants are not Mary worshipers like Holy Roman Papists, the text has been changed from a Latin lament by the Virgin Mary standing at the cross under her crucified son, and becomes an entreaty from a sinner to God. Although slightly reorchestrated by Bach, it's essentially the same music, and the performance by countertenor Eric Jurenas and soprano Mary Wilson above on Friday was simple and moving, and the blending of their two contrasting sopranos was often miraculous. At times, you couldn't make out which soprano was starting a musical phrase and who was finishing it. Really, really lovely.
The Festival continues through next Sunday, and there are free seminars during the day, $10 student concerts in the evening, and performances by a commingling of students and teachers throughout next weekend. Highly recommended. Click here for a schedule.