By the end of the 81st Bach at Noon, this afternoon, at Central Moravian Church, the sun had broken through the morning gloom, and all seemed very well with the world. We can’t give credit for that to the wonderful happenings inside the church, and yet…
It was a full house – we had students from both Southern Lehigh and Catasauqua School Districts, and all of the regulars, as we shared in a delightful afternoon of music-making. The festivities began with a beautiful four-hand piano arrangement of the aria “Sheep May Safely Graze,” from Cantata 208, which ably demonstrated the complete mind-meld Greg and Tom, our conductor and assistant conductor, respectively, share when they collaborate at the keyboard. What’s fascinating to me is that, as pianists, they have very different styles and touches, and yet, when they collaborate, there’s a coming together of their techniques, phrasings, and touch that is astoundingly unanimous. This artistic symbiosis continued with their bravura performance of Max Reger’s (or as Greg enjoyed pointing out to the audience, Johann Baptist Joseph Maximillian Reger’s) arrangement of Bach’s Third Brandenburg Concerto. Greg has mentioned a few times (uncharacteristically) that the arrangement is quite challenging (indeed, at lunch afterwards, every time someone complimented the performance, he would note, “It’s really hard!”), and it was definitely as dense as you might imagine a piece for three violins, three violas, three celli, and basso continuo might be. There were voice-leadings to consider in every register, and the architecture of the piece, written for those instrument groups, isn’t terribly pianistic. Still JPJMR’s arrangement seems to get all the broad strokes, and then some, and, I have to say, Greg and Tom were beyond splendid in performance. Their playing brimmed over with nuance, elegance, and flair, not to mention the challenging choreography of staying out of one another’s way as they brought it to life. At the conclusion, the audience gave generous applause, appropriately so!
We then continued with Singet dem Herrn, which seemed to go very well. The piece is so much fun to sing (once you’ve mastered it), and we gave it our all. I want to make particular mention of the work of Katherine Keiser, Annette Thiel, Guy Rauscher, and Todd Fennell, who magnificently sang the aria in the slow, middle section. I’ve long known and admired Guy’s and Todd’s singing, but Katherine is new this year, and I’ve never heard Annette in a solo context. I’ll just say it: wow. Katherine’s soprano offerings were full of color, line, impressive diction, and elegant musicality. Likewise, Annette’s voice was plush, linear, and full of nuance. The gents acquitted themselves beautifully, as well. How exciting and humbling to hear such talented colleagues!
If you’re a regular attendee at Bach at Noon, chances are you attend our other concerts throughout the year. If not, consider joining us for some Festival concerts this year. The ones most like Bach at Noon will be the Bach at Four concerts at The Incarnation of Our Lord church, a stunningly beautiful space with absolutely stellar acoustics (plaster and marble abound!). They’ll feature the informal introductions from Greg, a la Bach at Noon, with which we’re all so cheerfully familiar. Or, consider seeing the full choir and orchestra (a much larger group) put through our paces at the Friday evening concerts. Or hear the orchestra accompany Taylor 2 in bringing Bach’s music vividly to life in irresistible choreography by one of the modern dance masters. Or hear The Choir sing its signature piece, the Mass in B-Minor, on a beautiful Saturday afternoon. There’s lots more information and ticketing, here. I think everyone left this afternoon’s concert with a spring in their step (accompanied by some lovely sunshine) – the Festival promises all of that, and so much more!
PS. Bach at Noon takes a one month hiatus for Festival, and then makes a geographic shift to Allentown, to the Gothic revival confines of St. John’s Lutheran Church, a breathtakingly beautiful edifice, for a series of three summertime concerts. The first is on Tuesday, June 14th, and will feature a reprise of another Bach motet, this time the dexterous and rhapsodic Lobe den herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230, featuring members of The Choir and members of youth choirs who participated in this year’s Family Concert. The Philadelphia Brass will also be on hand to offer arrangements of Bach and Vivaldi, and the forces will unite for another motet, this time the gorgeously elegiac O Jesus Christ, meins liebens licht, which is Bach channelling both Schütz and Brahms in one utterly stunning piece. It’s going to be quite the treat!