After a short introduction by J. Reilly Lewis, the glorious sounds of Bach’s Passacaglia in C Minor, BWV 582, opened the 17th season of the Washington Bach Consort’s Noontime Cantata Concert Series. Ionarts has written about the series before: it’s one of the little musical jewels of Washington and any attempt to extol the virtues of being able to walk into the Church of the Epiphany (1317 G St. NW) in the middle of the day to hear Bach’s music feels like self-plagiarism. Any hesitation I may have had about the 20-minute walk was dissipated the second I heard Scott Dettra’s excellent performance of the Passacaglia, ever since coming upon Schoenberg’s orchestration one of my favorites in Bach’s organ canon.
If there are two things about the Noontime Cantata concerts that I am less than enthusiastic about, it is the issue of applause in church (I think it has no place there – lest in a commercial performance of a secular work perhaps) and Dr. Reilly Lewis's introductions to the music at hand. To be sure, Dr. Reilly Lewis speaks well and shares insight; his comments are interesting. Still, the minilectures are sometimes too long, too specific for a casual appreciator of Bach, and – like the applause – disrupt the concert’s transporting quality. (It also makes the audience look at their watches. They need to get back to work and eat still, great nourishment though Bach is.) There is a place for these introductions. Indeed, I would pay to hear them, but in the Noontime Cantata Concert Series I find they introduce an unwelcome worldly element to the otherwise surreal, serene experience.
Es ist nichts Gesundes an meinem Leibe (There is nought of soundness within my body), BWV 25, was the cantata that the WBC presented, with a personnel of 25. Bass Bob Robinson, who took the “Ach, wo hol’ ich Armer Rat” aria, was particularly good. Soprano Kate Vetter Cain, too, convinced. Gam Rose had caught a bad day but managed to struggled through the rest of the recitativo “Die ganze Welt ist mir ein Hospital.” Reviewing these concerts is a particularly unnatural activity. You just want to go, close your eyes, and let all the weight of the world drop from your shoulders. The enthusiastic applause after the cantata may have ripped me out of that state of serenity, but it showed how thankful the crowd was.
The next performance will take place on November 1st - Ich liebe den Höchsten von ganzem Gemüte, BWV 174 – as always on the first Tuesday of the month.