Riches galore from J.S. Bach

Christopher Morley’s review of our Birmingham concert, March 2004, was published in the Birmingham Post.

More than a quarter of a millennium since the composer’s death, there are still riches galore to be mined in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Not so long ago the idea of Bach in ‘period’ performance would evoke precious, hair-shirt readings of inverse communicative returns; nothing could be further from the truth in last night’s fresh, lively presentations from the personable and youthful Bach Players.

A sequence of Lenten cantatas began with ‘Widerstehe doch der Sünde’ and its amazingly discordant opening. Darkness and dissonance continue against a pale Vivaldian backcloth, demanding from the alto soloist highly attuned responses of colour and projection. In Hilary Summers it found a protagonist of unique qualities: tones of countertenor masculinity in the lowest range and of a Kathleen Ferrier-like warmth higher up, and a strength of breath-control akin to the seamless bowing of a viol.

Summers was joined by soprano Gillian Keith, tenor Charles Daniels and bass Peter Harvey for ‘Himmelskönig, sei willkommen’. Here the buoyant, airy articulation of a tiny instrumental complement did full justice to Bach’s gorgeous scoring, particularly in the opening duet between recorder (the remarkable Catherine Latham) and violin over pizzicato lower strings.

The opening four movements of the Art of Fugue, music of a cosmic otherworldliness, allowed the instrumentalists to demonstrate further their shapely, well-defined qualities before ‘Christ lag in Todesbanden’ reunited all four engaging soloists, Gillian Keith in particular projecting a beautifully ethereal line.

Birmingham Post, 4 March 2004