Going to concerts usually involve some meticulous planning on my part. But this time, I was familiar with the venue of the Bach Akademie Concert: Christ Church St Laurence. I also know how much work had been done during its refurbishment. The result is a vibrant venue with gorgeous architectural details and a warm acoustic.
The church was full when I arrived for the Bach Akademie Concert: Comfort and Joy. Christmas is on everyone’s mind, but this concert gave it a baroque flavouring.
The band opened with Bach’s Cantata BWV 151 Süsser Trost, his take on the birth of Christ. The “sweet comfort” of the title was delicately painted with the flauto dolce, also called “traverso” (a type of baroque flute, played horizontally like its modern counterpart). Soprano Anna Sandström’s angelic voice was exactly the right match for the instruments. Later in the piece, Anna Fraser’s deep rich timbre conveyed the fervent hope of humanity that this child could save the world. A particular highlight for me was finding a pair of oboe d’amores in the mix. I came to know its tone from the previous Bach Akademie concert I wrote about for classikON. There were also cameo recits from the other soloists, and the choir emerged briefly at the end to sing a short chorale.
The Cantata was followed by the Orchestral Suite No.2 in B minor, BWV 1067 which featured more of the traverso. Mikaela Oberg once again took the honour of being the soloist. This was such a strange listening experience. Most orchestral works with soloists treat them in the manner of a diva. But the flauto dolce’s breathy tone quality made me think of mists that hover over a lush forest – drifting languorously over long notes or bursting into showers of virtuosic quavers. I was aware how delicately the other members played to let Mikaela through.
In a number of movements, the traverso doubled with the violin. The effect was like a golden haze, underpinned by the architecture of the instruments around them. I was quite surprised to hear the last movement, Battinerie (also known as Badinerie), which has made it to the popular consciousness; usually played by violin. It was definitely worth listening to in its flute instrumentation.
A lot of the audience spent the interval out on the street, and to my knowledge, they didn’t lose anyone for the second half.
The next item in the programme, Part II of Christmas Oratorio BWV 248, opened with a Symphonia which the band played with relish, especially the quartet of oboes. This was quintessentially Bach in its writing – the dramatic recits (in the Evangelist style), more legato arioso, and sweet long arias interspersed with chorales. Amid the splendid singing, my attention was drawn to the continuo players: the harmonium, harpsichord and cello. The piece came to a glorious climax during the movement “Ehre sei gott”, in which the whole ensemble burst into an elaborate joyous fugue.
The last item in the programme, Bach’s Cantata BWV 191 was called Gloria in Excelsis Deo. It opened gloriously with trumpets and choir. For anyone who is familiar with his B Minor Mass, this Cantata was like a teaser – Bach did indeed revise and incorporate these movements into the mass. It was like solving a jigsaw puzzle: its clues lay amid the joyful voices of the soloists and the fugue and timbre of the choir.