15 January 2013

in the bleak midwinter

The last performance I went to in 2012, though not the last I will be posting about, was Philharmonia Baroque's all-Bach concert, conducted by Masaaki Suzuki. I was at the Sunday concert in First Congregational Church in Berkeley, whose clean New England lines only reinforce for me the plunge-into-the-past quality of hearing baroque music in a church on a brisk winter night; I spent many evenings like that long ago when I lived in Boston. Hearing Bach under such circumstances is for me a regular Currier and Ives print of a horse-drawn sleigh sliding through a snow-bound little town. Very Christmassy, if you were in the mood to take it as such.

The first half of the program was the Orchestral Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068 (the piece with the famous "Air on the G string" so beloved of those who compile discs with titles like "Greatest Hits of the Baroque!") and Cantata No. 63, Christen, atzet diesen Tag (Christians, etch this day); the second half was the Magnificat in E-flat major, BWV 243a. ("Oh, look," the man behind me announced. "This one has words!") The celebratory cantata and Mary's poem of praise and acceptance of the Lord's will both relate to Christmas without being indissolubly linked to the season, which was the brilliance of the program; you could take it as a holiday concert, or, if you preferred, as a general reminder of the pleasures of Bach. Suzuki led a rich and ebullient performance of the works; the orchestral suite gleamed like dark gold. The vocalists in the other pieces were excellent, chorus as well as soloists: soprano Sherezade Panthaki, whose voice was so large it even eclipsed the woman coughing in the back; Claire Kelm, second soprano in the Magnificat; mezzo-soprano Fabiana Gonzalez; dignified bass-baritone Dashon Burton, and tenor Dann Coakwell, whose joy in performing was infectious. All in all, a very pleasing way to end the year's concert-going.

PBO's next concerts, 13-17 February, feature one of Bach's sons, Johann Christian Bach, along with Haydn and Mozart, in an exploration of classical style.

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