Last night at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, Voices of Music concluded their current season with a concert that placed the music of Johann Sebastian Bach in the context of his predecessors. The second half of the program consisted entirely of Bach’s vocal and instrumental music, while the first half presented similar repertoire from his father’s cousin, Johann Christoph Bach, as well as Dieterich Buxtehude (whom Bach heard perform in Lübeck in 1704), Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber, and Johann Heinrich Schmelzer. Two guest soloists joined the Voices of Music instrumentalists, soprano Laura Heimes and baroque trumpeter John Thiessen.
The major work on the program was also its conclusion, the BWV 51 cantata Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (praise God in all the nations); and it featured both guest soloists. The cantata was composed for solo soprano (without chorus), consisting of two arias separated by a recitative and followed by a chorale with an alleluia coda. While the soprano sings in each of the movements, the trumpet accompanies only the initial aria and the coda. All texts are anonymous except for that of the familiar chorale “Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren” (may there be praise and glory and honor).
The performance was a decidedly joyous one. Heimes captured the diverse moods that unfold over the modest duration of the cantata, while Thiessen provided a crisp account of the celebratory trumpet parts. The entire ensemble was led by first violinist Carla Moore from her music stand. All performers stood except for continuo players William Skeen on five-string baroque cello, Hanneke van Proosdij on organ, and David Tayler on archlute. The result was an engaging account of some of Bach’s most elegant solo writing.
The cantata was preceded by the BWV 1041 violin concerto in A minor. Moore again served as leader, as well as soloist. However, in the spirit of the Collegium Musicum in which this concerto was most likely performed, Moore supported the first violin part of the ensemble when not executing solo passages. That solo work captured the same spirited rhetoric that would then emerge in the BWV 51 performance, all grounded on a solid command of instrumental technique. The string ensemble also performed as a group (again without a conductor) to present the second (Air) movement of the BWV 1058 orchestral suite in D major. The reduced resources brought enhanced clarity to the contrapuntal interplay among the different parts, providing a refreshing approach to what was probably the most familiar work on the program.
Heimes also sang two additional arias, both structured as divisions over a ground bass. In Buxtehude’s BuxWV38 “Herr, wenn ich nur dich hab” (Lord, when I have only thee), the continuo bass line is elaborated by voice and two violins. In “Mein Freund ist mein” (my Love is mine) from Johann Christoph Bach’s cantata Meine Freundin du bist schön (thou art fair, my beloved), solo work is shared by voice and violin (Elizabeth Blumenstock), supported by continuo and strings (originally viols). These arias captured two different moods of intimacy within a common structural framework, and Heimes expressiveness served both of them well. The strings also performed a sonata in A minor by Schmelzer in six individual parts, rich in both harmonies and contrapuntal voice leading.
Still, it was BWV 51 that wrapped up the season on a thoroughly appropriate celebratory note, leaving all of us on audience side looking forward to the next season’s round of concerts.