Bach Cantata Pilgrimage Royal Naval College Chapel, Greenwich 16 January 2000. Monteverdi Choir and English Baroque Soloists, cond. John Eliot Gardiner, with solo singers.
This is an extraordinary venture and a worthy celebration of J S Bach in the 250th anniversary year of his death at 65 in 1750. During 2000 all 198 cantatas are to be performed on the liturgically appropriate days throughout Europe, Scandinavia, the Baltic States & USA. Deutsche Grammophon will release 12 CDs from the Pilgrimage.
This Greenwich concert was the first of the British leg of the tour. We heard the Cantatas BWV 3, 13 and 155 together with the Motet Jesu, meine Freude, BWV 227. The Chapel of the former Naval College (Trinity College of Music is moving in soon) is a sumptuous setting with excellent acoustics.
There was a fine period orchestra led by Maya Homburger, with notable contributions from recorders, bassoon and oboes d'amore and da caccia. The solo singers were all admirable, Joanne Lunn (soprano), Julian Podger (tenor), Richard Wyn Roberts (alto) and Gerald Finley (bass). The soloists also joined the choir, as would have been customary in Bach's time. The Monteverdi Choir came into its own especially in the large-scale five-part motet, a symmetrical structure in 11 sections, which was given with continuo support.
Sir John Eliot Gardiner's way with Bach gently emphasises the dance basis of so many of the movements, even when the texts are sombre, as for this Sunday in mid-January. Even the tenor aria in Meine Seufzer, meine Traenen (described as desolate in mood from start to finish) had a lilt in its exquisite accompaniment for two recorders, oboe da caccia and continuo, but the bass aria "groaning and piteous weeping" (although sung in German, the words were provided in English only) did not belie its reputation as "the most grief-laden aria Bach ever wrote".
A memorable, life enhancing experience, which whets the appetite for future concerts in this marathon series, scheduled to end in New York on 31 December. Most of the concerts will take place in beautiful churches, some of them with important historical connections with J S Bach, and there will be an additional 'satellite' concert in the Proms on 15 July.
Peter Grahame Woolf
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