Last night I went to Davis to see the American Bach Soloists, an excellent Baroque ensemble.
I will begin with my pet peeve. As an undergraduate my meat and potatoes repertoire was the alto solos from Bach choral works. Eric Jurenas is a perfectly good countertenor, but I want to see altos in this repertoire. And don't think you can pull the authenticity card on me. You know as well as I do that to be authentic you would have to replace all the sopranos with men, too. Bach did not single out altos for this nasty treatment. I'm just sayin.
Jeffrey Thomas, the conductor, is on the choral faculty at UC Davis. I'm not completely sure of this because it says "University of California" which usually means either Berkeley or the entire University system, but all other references refer to Davis. This explains their preference for choral repertoire. I'm grateful. Thank you. This is the Bach I know and love.
I love them, and this program was especially interesting. The program began with "Tönet, ihr Pauken! Erschallet, Trompeten!" It turns out this cantata, written for a secular birthday celebration, became the first section of the Christmas Oratorio. If you have been wondering all these years why this piece begins with a drum solo, goes immediately on to trumpets, followed by strings, it's because the words mean, "Sound you drums! Ring forth, trumpets! Vibrating strings fill the air!" Isn't that cool. The different voices are assigned roles as they would be in an oratorio.
It's nice to hear all this Bach, in spite of my complaints about alto soloists. The tiny chorus handles all their assignments with skill and enthusiasm. It was especially pleasant to see them swaying in rhythm with the 3/4 time in the opening number. Bravo.
A suite, Ouverture in B Minor, turned out to be a marvelous flute concerto played by Sandra Miller. It was excellent.
Whenever there is a final chorale, the audience sings, as for instance at the end of "Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir." It was fun.
The program closed with the piece with which I was most familiar, The Magnificat. This is Mary's outburst after the annunciation, "My soul doth magnify the lord." Bach performance practice has changed enormously in the 50 years since I sang it. Orchestral textures are lighter, tempos are faster, and probably most significantly legato is consistently replaced by leggiero. The notes are separated with a marked diminuendo. I was taught in the Romantic style where everything is legato. This must not be interpreted as a criticism. It is the nature of life to change. It helps to bring the old back into our hearts again.