London music

Andrew Benson-Wilson wrote about our London concert, May 1998, for Early Music Review.

The Bach Players, formed early in 1996, are dedicated to the performance of their eponymous composer. They presented wonderfully musical performances of three cantatas (56, 57, 58), with Rachel Elliott and Thomas Guthrie as soloists, and the harpsichord concerto in F (BWV 1057) at St John’s Wood Parish Church on Sunday 10 May. Notwithstanding their aim of remaining faithful to Bach’s original intentions, they seemed refreshingly uninhibited in exploring the emotional and romantic depths inherent in Bach’s music. Their singing and playing went beyond scholarly intensity and technical virtuosity to that hard-to-define coalescence that makes for musical performance of the highest standard. Two examples came in the opening cantata ‘Selig ist der Mann’, a dialogue between the Soul and Jesus. Rachel Elliott’s scrunchingly exquisite aria ‘Ich wünschte mir den Tod’ was a lovely demonstration of this blending of baroque logic with romantic depth of feeling. Whilst retaining an entirely convincing vocal style, she was not afraid to imbue the music with an intensity of emotional expression. Particularly effective was the musical and spiritual sense she made of the da capo, avoiding the rather too frequent ‘you’ve heard this bit before’ approach. Thomas Guthrie’s response as Vox Christi was equally emotive – he seems to become possessed by the part he is singing. The mood of the music and the underlying emotion pervades all of his being and he communicates this directly to the listener through vocal texture, posture and facial expressiveness. Two very talented singers! The instrumental support was first class, with some particularly attractive playing by the continuo cellist, Alison McGillivray, and the oboists, Catherine Latham and James Eastaway. The concerto (Brandenburg 4 in Bach’s harpsichord transcription) was given a stunning performance by all players, particularly by Gary Cooper in an outstanding display of playing in which technical virtuosity and emotional strength never overpowered the musical impulse of the piece. The church is next to Lord’s Cricket ground, so cricket lovers would have appreciated the platform layout for the concerto, with the cellist at the bowling end of the harpsichord, and the rest of the players gathered like an array of slip fielders behind the batsman seated at the harpsichord.

Early Music Review, July 1998