Profane Bach at St Paul’s Lutheran Church

J. S. Bach: Harpsichord Concerto in A major, BWV 1055; Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041;  Coffee Cantata, BWV 211

Douglas Mews (harpsichord), Kate Goodbehere (violin), Rowena Simpson (soprano), John Beaglehole (tenor), David Morriss (bass), instrumentalists on baroque instruments

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, King Street, Newtown

Sunday, 20 March 2011, 5pm

Bach’s birthday is being celebrated at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in King Street, Newtown. Last Sunday there was a concert of concertos and a secular cantata; next Sunday there is more Bach, also at 5pm. Bach was born on 21 March 1685, so this was his 326th anniversary.

Bach’s secular cantatas are not heard very often, in this country at least, so it was refreshing to hear the humorous Coffee Cantata performed, and especially by such able musicians as these. It showed, in the composer’s birthday week, that he was not only a sombre composer for the Lutheran Church.

Approximately 40 people heard a fine concert of the master’s music. The printed programme gave the words in German and their English translation for the cantata; unfortunately it left out the names of two instrumentalists – Penelope Evison, baroque transverse flute, and Richard Hardie, baroque double bass (last heard in 2010 year with the visiting Wallfisch Band).

Throughout the concert various combinations of players accompanied the instrumental soloists, and vocalists.

The harpsichord concerto was familiar, though from less authentic recorded versions. Perhaps they were more like ‘bark’ to this concert’s Bach.

The allegro first movement was light and bright, with plenty of air in it; there were a few tuning aberrations near the beginning. The larghetto second movement was very slow and delicate, while the third, another allegro (ma non tanto) again had intonation wobbles near the beginning. Douglas Mews’s playing was always lively and very fine; it was almost non-stop playing for him.

The violin concerto was very well played, with soloist Kate Goodbehere always on top of the requirements. It, too, was familiar – cheerful, satisfying music. As well as many fine moments for the soloist, there were some wonderful phrases for the cellist, Emma Goodbehere. After an allegro and andante, there was a sprightly allegro assai to end.

In the cantata, the cellists swapped places; Julien Hainsworth took on the quite demanding role for that instrument.

After an opening recitative from the tenor, the first aria was sung by bass David Morriss. It was very good, Morriss varying the voice a lot. Top and bottom registers were best; the middle tended to be thrown away. Morriss, as the father, then sang a recitative with his coffee-addicted daughter (sound familiar?), sung by Rowena Simpson. With her hair in little pigtails, Simpson sang very expressively, and with some acting out by expression, gesture and movement, the dispute between the two was brought alive. This recitative was accompanied by cello and harpsichord only.

The daughter, Liesgen, then sang an aria extolling the virtues of coffee and her fondness for it, accompanied by cello, harpsichord and the excellent flute playing of Penelope Evison.

Two recitatives for the pair were next, with the father trying to introduce sanctions which would persuade the young woman to abandon coffee. Only when he thought to threaten that his daughter would not have a husband unless she gave up coffee did she say she would give it up.

However, her delightful aria revealed that she wanted a husband very much. With two violins, viola, cello, bass and harpsichord, this was sensitively sung with beautiful phrasing. Both singer and violins made the stresses appropriate to baroque music.

The tenor returned as narrator for a recitative in which he told of the father looking for a husband for his daughter. The latter managed to make it known that only a suitor who promised and contracted to allow her coffee whenever she wanted it would be considered. This part was acted out most humorously by Simpson, indicating men in the audience whom she was ostensibly considering (with suitable responses in some cases); Beaglehole entered into this miming also. Douglas Mews changed registration on the harpsichord at suitable moments, and the flute returned to give mellifluous poignancy to the story.

A small coffee table with the appropriate appurtenances was brought in and out at fitting moments in the dialogues.

The final movement had all three singers, and the orchestra, recounting how mothers and grandmothers drank coffee, so who could blame the daughters?

The music and story were thoroughly entertaining – a lively presentation, and fine singing and playing.

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