Monday, July 16, 2018

Ensemble Caprice's J.S. Bach cantatas set two spires atop the 2018 festival edifice

Concluding the 52nd annual Indianapolis Early Music Festival, Ensemble Caprice and guests from Echoing Air, an Indianapolis ensemble, and the Bach Society of Minnesota performed two cantatas
Matthias Maute conducted two Bach cantatas Sunday afternoon.
by J.S. Bach, "Wir danken dir, Gott" and "Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen," at the Indiana History Center Sunday afternoon.

Matthias Maute, who directed the program, also was featured as recorder virtuoso in two shorter Bach works, Solo per flauto, BWV 1013, and his arrangement of the Italian Concerto, BWV 971, a work familiar in the original to pianists and harpsichordists.

Maute brought to the former piece his ready command of tone, phrasing, and articulation. The interval skips in the Allemande were adroitly managed and the flow of sequences in the Corrente was poised. Expressively, the high point was the Sarabande, where just enough sostenuto lingering was evident at the slow tempo to strike the ear as more inviting than dawdling.

His choice of the Italian Concerto as a showpiece for a single-line instrument was inspired:  The keyboardist's right hand has most of the glory in the original, and thus the risk of imbalance in this arrangement was minimal. The slow movement is especially rich in flourishes in that topmost voice — the kind of display Maute revels in. The texture was more than adequately filled in by two violins, viola, cello, violone, and harpsichord. Coordination drifted slightly in the opening Allegro, though at the faster tempo (Presto) of the finale, the musicians seemed to have no trouble staying together.

As for the cantatas, four singers from Echoing Air supplemented the four Minnesota soloists in the choruses. The rapport was seamless. I enjoyed especially the brilliance of the opening chorus in "Lobet Gott," known as the Ascension Oratorio, for its vivid depiction of Christ's ascent into heaven, capped eventually by a musically depicted viewpoint from beyond. The twinkling bursts of soprano against a stately choral background captured a text focusing on God's splendor and praiseworthiness.

Further tone-painting came with the bass recitative (sturdily sung by Aaron Lawson) expressing the faithful's sorrow at Jesus' departure, as the flutes became teardrops rolling down pallid cheeks. Baroque flutes have a tone especially apt for such a depiction, whereas the modern flute would likely make those tears viscous. Trumpets, oboes, and timpani, supplementing the usual string complement, emphasized the sense of occasion that clings to both these scores.

In the Ascension Oratorio, tenor Nicholas Chalmers displayed the dignity and clarity needed for the Evangelist's narrative role. The most eloquent solos in that cantata fell to Nerea Barraondo, whose thrilling true-alto tone lent the right air of urgent entreaty to "Ah, stay with me, my dearest life thou" (to use the program insert's English translation). Soprano Linh Kauffman displayed a similar intensity and emotional commitment, but her negotiation of the aria "Jesus, thy dear mercy's glances" betrayed inconsistent projection and want of color.

The performance of "Wir danken dir" set a high standard for the assembled musicians, and revealed Maute's thoroughness and panache as a conductor. Special mention should be made of the superb mastery that Ilya Poletaev displayed in the organ obbligato to the assertive alto aria, "Hallelujah, strength and might to the name of God Almighty."

To go from particular to general, that was one of many moments in which Maute's learned familiarity with High Baroque style and its historical setting flowered in translating that learning from the printed page into heartening reality, with Indianapolis Early Music Festival patrons the beneficiaries.

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