MusicWeb International's Worldwide Concert and Opera Reviews

 Clicking Google advertisements helps keep MusicWeb subscription-free.


Other Links

Editorial Board

  • Editor - Bill Kenny
  • Deputy Editor - Bob Briggs
  • Founder - Len Mullenger

Google Site Search


Internet MusicWeb




Edinburgh International Festival 2009 (22) - JC Bach, Handel, JS Bach: The Monteverdi Choir, The English Baroque Soloists, John Eliot Gardiner (conductor), Usher Hall, 3.9.2009 (SRT)

J. C. Bach: Es erhub sich ein Streit
Handel: Israel in Egypt, Part 1: Exodus
J. S. Bach: Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir BWV130, Es erhub sich ein Streit BWV19, Nun ist das heil und die Kraft BWV50

Edinburgh has been awash with the world’s finest Bach performers over the last three weeks, but tonight brought surely the finest of them all. Gardiner and his orchestra have surely taken the palm for sheer ambition in their monumental Bach Pilgrimage, the last recording of which is due for issue next year. Their style in Bach is so utterly secure and uniquely distinctive that any music lover would move mountains to get a ticket to hear them perform. Tonight did not disappoint. Their programme of cantatas for the feast of St Michael focused on the theme of angels, inspiring Bach to his most festive, with trumpets and drums aplenty, such as in the breathtaking opening chorus of BWV19, which has since entered my Bach hall of fame. However, this being Bach these triumphal forces were also used with remarkable originality and subtlety. BWV130, for example, contains a bass aria with the extraordinary accompaniment of trumpets, drums and continuo: only Bach could make this work so effectively. The most beautiful moment of the evening was a tenor aria in BWV19 where the tenor is accompanied by a solo trumpet playing the most beautiful, gentle chorale melody and blending in a truly magical way.

A fascinating contrast was provided in the opening cantata by Johann Christoph Bach, JS’s older brother. His cantata and BWV19 both have the same opening line and treat the same theme: that of the struggle between the forces of Satan and God’s angels as depicted in Revelation Chapter 12. JCB’s work was astonishingly virtuosic, entirely different from his brother’s and in no way inferior, such as in the extraordinary doubling of two bass voices who sing the same text in the opening aria but, to increase the dramatic tension, sing sometimes a bar or two apart, but sometimes as close as a beat. The groups of instrumentalists bounded ideas off each other as if they were reverberating off the celestial vault. Most effective, and perhaps a Bach that we should all know better.

As for the Handel, this showcased the players and singers at their very best. Part 1 of Israel in Egypt depicts the Exodus, focusing on the ten plagues, and Handel provides some wonderfully descriptive passages in his score, such as the leaping violins to depict the frogs, buzzing strings for the flies and locusts, and the eerie darkness with unsettled harmonies and a broken choral line. The orchestral players relished every opportunity to showcase their virtuosity and the choir’s articulation and dramatic instinct was above praise.

At the centre of it all stood Gardiner himself with his razor sharp vision and keen sense of excitement: when he conducts this music you feel as though you are listening to it for the very first time. For an encore we were treated to the final chorus of Israel in Egypt, an overwhelming conclusion to an excellent evening. I’m aware that this review sounds unusually gushing, but the concert will be broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on Thursday 17th September so that you can see for yourself. Don’t miss it!

Simon Thompson


Back to Top                                                 Cumulative Index Page

counter to