HT Review: Sunday concerts feature Bach, Schubert, splendidly

Sunday afternoon was graced with splendid music, splendidly performed. At St. Thomas Lutheran Church, the eighth season of the Bloomington Bach Cantata Project got underway. Within the hour after its conclusion, a chamber music series titled “Mostly Schubert” got underway due west on Third Street in Indiana University’s Auer Hall.

Bach in profusion:

The Bach series resumed with installment No. 43, leading one to ask how long these events will last, what with about six or seven programs per year. I was told to never fear, because the productive Johann Sebastian composed about 190 cantatas, and each concert focuses on just one, meaning we have about 150 yet to go.

For those unfamiliar, project performances are compact packages offering that single chosen cantata, on this occasion “Siehe, ich will viel Fischer aussenden” (“Behold, I will send forth many fishermen”). It is prepared and given through a partnership involving the Bach Cantata Project, directed by Wendy Gillespie; Early Music Associates, producers of the Bloomington Early Music Festival; and the IU Jacobs School of Music’s musicology department and Historical Performance Institute. The cantata is performed with historical accuracy. Musicology professor and Bach scholar Daniel Melamed follows with a brief and engaging lecture, and then the cantata is performed again.

The whole package lasts an hour, and it means an hour spent in an intimate church listening to and learning about a piece of great music.

So it was on Sunday when this cantata about a gracious God was musically led by Stanley Ritchie, one of the town’s, and one might say the world’s, most eminent early music specialists. The music fell beautifully and spiritedly on one’s ears, as performed with authenticity and assurance by an instrumental ensemble of 13 and four excellent vocalists: soprano Elijah McCormack, alto Stephanie Reyes, tenor Joseph Ittoop, and bass David Rugger. The message expressed was always present and faithful. So was a strict obedience to style.

For any devotee of Bach and early music, these concerts are not to be missed. The next one comes along Sunday, Oct. 8.

Then, Schubert:

Last season, the Jacobs School faculty shared a series of six programs devoted to the chamber works of Johannes Brahms. This season, we are promised a four-program chamber music series given to “Mostly Schubert.”

The first, on Sunday, featured three works of Franz Schubert, along with an aria by Mozart, “L’amero saro costante” (“I shall love her; I shall be constant”) taken from the opera “Il Re Pastore” (“The Sheperd King”), written when the composer was 19. Why this particular item was chosen for the program, I do not know, except it helped introduce a new faculty member in the voice department, soprano Katherine Jolly, and that alone proved sufficient for the aria’s inclusion.

Jolly’s stage presence is inviting. Her soprano is light and bright, flexible and caressing, very much still in tip-top career shape. Her way with the Mozart aria was lovely, and nicely supported by violinist Grigory Kalinovsky and pianist Jean-Louis Haguenauer.

The Mozart was followed by one of Schubert’s last compositions, a concert aria for soprano, clarinet, and piano, “Der Hirt auf dem Felsen” (“The Shepherd on the Rock”), music about nature and love broken and joy in wandering about as springtime arrives. The music is stunningly beautiful, with a couple of melodies that will simply sweep you away. As offered by Jolly, clarinetist Howard Klug and Haguenauer, it definitely swept this listener away; the performance was ravishing and, for introducing Katherine Jolly, revelatory. She’s a catch.

Heard earlier on the program were Schubert’s youthful and lyrical Sonatina in D Major, D.384, handled with aplomb by Kalinovsky and pianist Futaba Niekawa, and the Fantasy in F Minor, D.940, for Piano Four Hands, attacked with gusto galore, feverishly, by Arnaldo Cohen and Emile Naoumoff.

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer © HTO 2017

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