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Bach, Weimar Cantatas: Purcell Quartet, Emma Kirkby, Michael Chance, Charles Daniels, Peter Harvey, Wigmore Hall, 15.10. 2005 (ME)



The last time I heard a set of Bach Cantatas at the Wigmore was in November 2002, when Matthias Goerne and Albrecht Mayer filled the hall with the most gloriously life-affirming music-making imaginable: on this present occasion, a similarly starry-sounding cast had bravely programmed BWV 12, 18, 61 and 161, all solemn and majestic works which, despite their partially fairly humble beginnings, need performances of the highest calibre – performances which were sadly not forthcoming, owing to an overall lack of togetherness in instrumental ensemble and a varying standard of vocal fitness.

Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland is one of the most serenely grand of all Bach’s works, and the opening A minor chorale must strike the ear as a great affirmation: unfortunately, the players seemed hesitant in approaching the notes, resulting in a wayward ensemble: fortunately Richard Boothby’s ‘cello redeemed matters somewhat in ‘Du kommst und lässt dein Licht’ and the evening’s best performances came from Peter Harvey’s warm, intense, heartfelt rendering of the great recitative ‘Und das Abendmahl mit ihm halten, / Und er mit mir’ and Charles Daniels’ direct, moving singing of the lovely aria ‘Komm, Jesu, komm,’ even though the latter’s style is not really fluent enough for this music. Komm, du süsse Todesstunde featured some fine recorder playing from Rachel Beckett and Catherine Latham, but as with the first cantata there was some uncertain instrumental work, and the singers here were not always evenly matched, with Michael Chance appearing over-dominant at times.

Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen is dominated by the sound of the oboe, but it really does need a Mayer to make that descant sing. Daniels and Chance sounded effortful in their arias: the phrase ‘alle Pein / Wurd doch nur ein Kleines sein’ should not actually sound painful, but Peter Harvey’s contribution was solidly musical. Gleich wie der Regen und Schnee  is always fascinating to hear, the intricate Scena providing challenges for all the singers, and here they mostly rose to the challenges; Emma Kirkby had earlier displayed some wayward intonation and woolly diction, but ‘Mein Seelenschatz is Gottes Wort’ showed her  agile voice in its best light.

I’m not sure whether or not Ms Kirby is having her fun with us in the programme’s biography of her, where she purports to have been specially pleased with two recent reviews from the Amazon Bulletin Board and the Winnipeg Free Press (!) one of them having described her as ‘surprisingly musical.’ Excuse me? Maybe a bout of silliness has just overcome the Wigmore’s programme-writers: I certainly hope so, and that such guff as ‘…I must also be a miracle-worker…’ in the general notes will have a short lifespan. Bach, of course, is the ‘miracle-worker,’ and the packed house went home happy despite a performance which often fell short of the ideal.



Melanie Eskenazi     



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Contributors: Marc Bridle (North American Editor), Martin Anderson, Patrick Burnson, Frank Cadenhead, Colin Clarke, Paul Conway, Geoff Diggines, Sarah Dunlop, Evan Dickerson Melanie Eskenazi (London Editor) Robert J Farr, Abigail Frymann, Göran Forsling, Simon Hewitt-Jones, Bruce Hodges,Tim Hodgkinson, Martin Hoyle, Bernard Jacobson, Tristan Jakob-Hoff, Ben Killeen, Bill Kenny (Regional Editor), Ian Lace, Jean Martin, John Leeman, Neil McGowan, Bettina Mara, Robin Mitchell-Boyask, Simon Morgan, Aline Nassif, Anne Ozorio, Ian Pace, John Phillips, Jim Pritchard, John Quinn, Peter Quantrill, Alex Russell, Paul Serotsky, Harvey Steiman, Christopher Thomas, John Warnaby, Hans-Theodor Wolhfahrt, Peter Grahame Woolf (Founder & Emeritus Editor)