Bach at Noon: November 8th

Much festive music is on tap for November’s Bach at Noon. Please join us at Central Moravian Church next Tuesday, November 8th. The doors open at 11:30 am, and it’s always advisable to arrive early to secure a good seat. The program will begin with the final performance in our mini-series of Bach’s solo harpsichord concerti, played with great aplomb by Charlotte Mattax Moersch. Up for this Tuesday is the regal D-Major, BWV 1054. As a keyboardist, myself, I’m in awe of Charlotte’s polished performances – I can hardly imagine playing three of the concerti in three months’ time. A transcription of the E-Major Violin Concerto (BWV 1042), The D-Major begins with a unison ascending d major tirad, and then harpsichord and strings navigate a very cheerful, Vivaldi-esque romp, with lots of interesting twists and turns. The second movement, marked adagio e piano sempre is uncommonly lyrical – you can hear figurations that sound particularly violinic in the harpsichord’s melody in this beautiful section. The piece concludes triumphantly with blistering harpsichord passages, all in the context of an elegant dance. In these pieces you hear the lilting quality of courtly dances, and one can easily imagine these pieces being danced. The D-Major sounds particularly influenced by Bach’s Italian contemporaries, especially Vivaldi, whose music he greatly admired. What a treat it will be to hear Charlotte navigate this terrain with her wonderful colleagues in the Bach Festival Orchestra!

If the orchestration for the harpsichord piece will be very intimate (thus far, the concerti have been performed with string players one on a part), we’ll have a wonderfully large band for Cantata BWV 129, “Praise be the Lord, My God.” This cantata calls for the full compliment of strings and continuo, with winds, trumpets and timpani. It is one of the archetypical chorale cantatas in Bach’s oeuvre: that is, it is one of the best examples of a style of writing that uses the melody of a chorale, or hymn, as the soprano part, with extrapolation and expansion underneath. These cantatas would be particularly accessible to congregations, because they would recognize the melodies from their hymnals (in this case, both the first and last movements use the melody of a popular chorale of Bach’s time).

This cantata sets the text of a passionate Trinitarian chorale in five verses. The opening addresses God the Father with exciting fanfares from the trumpets and timpani, with the soprano melody in rhythmic augmentation (the note values are slowed down to allow the sopranos to soar over very active support by the lower three voices). This movement seems almost pentecostal in its fervor (and reminds me, in a way, of the fanfares found in Bach’s Pentecost cantata, BWV 34, another favorite of The Choir). The brakes are applied for the bass aria that follows. The singer is accompanied by basso continuo instruments, cello and organ. This movement has a lovely lilting quality, with dotted rhythms in the continuo, and a very lyrical melody as the bass soloist addresses “the most beloved Son of the Father.” Following this intimate aria is another that sounds evocative of the trio sonata from Musical Offering (which we’ll be hearing later in the season). Scored for violin, flute and continuo, the trio becomes a quartet with the addition of the soprano soloist, who addresses the Holy Ghost in this contrapuntally active piece. Listen for the different parings of voice and instruments as they dialogue, and marvel at how they support and embellish at once. This is a stunningly beautiful aria. Next, an alto aria, accompanied by slightly rustic-sounding English horn and continuo instruments. The text suggests the praise of all things that soar, and, indeed, both the alto and English horn seem to explore the upper regions of their range to illustrate. The three arias of this cantata are new favorites of mine – each is a brilliant illustration of its text, and, collectively, they form some interesting musical and intellectual juxtapositions, almost like different facets of a beautiful gemstone. Bach gilds the whole with a deeply rousing closing that interpolates the final doxological verse of the chorale among festive orchestral playing, with the ta-ta-ta fanfares being shared by trumpets and strings. This is an exceptionally exuberant cantata, and I’m certain everyone will leave with a spring in their step! Please join us for a great program.

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