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Concert reviews

Bach Day 2015

Johann Sebastian BACH & Jacobus NOZEMAN: Sonatas for violin and bc
Furor Musicus
concert: Jan 31, 2015, Utrecht, TivoliVredenburg (Hertz)

Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750): Sonata for violin and bc in G (BWV 1021); Sonata for violin and bc in e minor (BWV 1023); Sonata for violin and bc in c minor (BWV 1024); Jacobus NOZEMAN (1693-1745): Sonata for violin and bc in c minor, op. 1,1; Sonata for violin and bc in E, op. 2,1

Antoinette Lohmann, violin; Sarah Walder, cello; Thomas Boysen, lute; Jörn Boysen, harpsichord

Johann Sebastian BACH: Mass in b minor (BWV 232)
Concerto Copenhagen/Lars Ulrik Mortensen
concert: Jan 31, 2015, Utrecht, TivoliVredenburg

[soli] Maria Keohane, Johannette Zomer, soprano; Alex Potter, alto; Jan Kobow, tenor; Peter Harvey, bass
[ripieni] Anna Jobrant, Hanna Kappelin, soprano; Jonathan Darbourne, alto; Chris Watson, tenor; Matthew Baker, bass

Every year around 1 February the Organisation for Early Music organises a Bach day on two consecutive days in Utrecht and Amsterdam. During the day several concerts and other events take place. I attended two concerts in Utrecht. The day started with Menno van Delft playing the clavichord in music by Johann Sebastian and Wilhelm Friedemann Bach and by Johann Caspar Ferdinand Fischer. Unfortunately I was not able to attend that concert, but went to a concert in the early afternoon, with Antoinette Lohmann and her ensemble Furor Musicus playing three sonatas by Bach and two by his Dutch contemporary Jacobus Nozeman. Little is known about the latter: he played in the orchestra of the Amsterdam theatre around 1715 and became organist of one of the city's churches in 1719. Apart from some songs only two collections of sonatas for violin and bc have been preserved. They date from 1725 and 1736 respectively and show the stylistic developments of the time. The second collection is technically more challenging than the first. Antoinette Lohmann played one sonata from each collection. These are very nice works which hold some surprises here and there, and made me curious about the complete recording of both collections which has been released recently.

The three sonatas BWV 1021, 1023 and 1024 by Bach are all of doubtful authenticity which could be the reason that they are not that frequently performed, although they are fairly well represented on disc. Like in Nozeman's sonatas Antoinette Lohmann delivered very good performances which were of a rather intimate nature. I certainly could imagine - and probably would prefer - a more extroverted and dramatic interpretation, but that is not to say that a somewhat different approach is not legitimate, especially when the playing is so good as was the case here. Sarah Walder, Thomas Boysen and Jörn Boysen delivered excellent support. This ensemble was founded in 2008 but I heard it for the first time. It is definitely a group to keep an eye on.

The next event was also the last, and very different from the afternoon concert. Under the direction of Lars Ulrik Mortensen the Mass in b minor was performed, one of Bach's most monumental compositions. However, in some way the difference with the afternoon concert was not as great as it could have been. There was no large choir, but a small vocal ensemble and a relatively small orchestra. Mortensen is one of those Bach interpreters who believes that Joshua Rifkin and Andrew Parrott are right in their view that Bach performed most of his vocal works with one voice per part. In this performance Mortensen had added a group of ripienists. I am not so sure about the need of ripienists, nor did I always understand why they participated in some parts of the Mass. In the Osanna the first soprano joined the first choir to sing the top line instead of the two sopranos who were part of the first choir, Maria Keohane and Johannette Zomer, probably in the interest of a good balance.

Ms Zomer replaced Joanne Lunn who had to withdraw because of illness. I don't think it made much of a difference as she blended pretty well with the other singers. Mortensen had managed to turn them into a good ensemble. It was nice that they kept their vibrato in check. That is not obvious: the next night the performance in Amsterdam was broadcast live by Dutch radio, and I noticed an incessant and quite annoying vibrato from Jan Kobow. Here he behaved impeccably, both in his duet 'Domine Deus' and in the Benedictus, which he sang beautifully. The alto solos were sung by Alex Potter and these were among the highlights of the night. He was just brilliant, and the Agnus Dei was given a highly incisive interpretation. Peter Harvey sang his solos also quite well, especially 'Et in Spiritum Sanctum Dominum'. Johannette Zomer was outstanding in 'Laudamus te', although I found the tempo - as in some other solos - a bit too fast. But that is not her responsibility, but that of the conductor. The Christe eleison, a duet of two sopranos, is often a problem, but here it came off pretty well.

The instrumental parts were beautifully realised by the Concerto Copenhagen. That includes the obbligato parts, among them Fredrik From on the violin (Laudamus te) and Teunis van der Zwart on the natural horn (Quoniam tu solus sanctus).

On the whole I greatly appreciated Mortensen's interpretation. The instrumental section of the first Kyrie - after the opening statement by the choir - was better than I have heard mostly; it is often played too much legato, but not here. The Sanctus was probably the best part of the whole performance as it was brilliantly sung and played and a demonstration of excellent ensemble of singers and players.

It has to be said that a modern concert hall is not the ideal venue for a work like this, and I would have preferred a performance in a church. That said, the relatively small number of performers could easily fill the large hall and the acoustic made it possible for me to hear pretty much everything, even though I was seated left of the ensemble. All in all this was a memorable performance of the Mass in b minor, and one of the best I have heard in recent times.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

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