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Christmas with Bach

J C Bach – Lieber Herr Gott, wecke uns auf

J S Bach – Christen, atzet diesen Tag (BWV63); Sie warden aus Saba alle kommen (BWV65); Lutheran Mass in F major (BWV233)

Adrian Williams – Winter Chorale


I Fagiolini / The Academy of Ancient Music / Robert Hollingsworth - conductor

St John's Smith Square 20 December 2006


St John's was in exuberant spirits, with even the gallery packed, as the members of the Academy of Ancient Music took their places on the platform and I Fagiolini processed in to deliver an opening anthem by Johann Christoph Bach (uncle of Johann Sebastian) from the centre of the church.


The upbeat mood continued with the cantata Christen, atzet diesen Tag calling on christians to hurry to the manger and celebrate that blessed, extraordinary day, and punctuated with a flourish of four trumpets. As Robert Hollingsworth commented “no expense spared tonight”, as the trumpeters promptly disappeared with no further music in the concert scored for them.


Their place was taken by the horn players and the notes of the oboe da caccia added a touch of oriental exoticism to the arrival of the Kings from Sheba bearing treasured gifts in the following cantata.


Good, cheery and enjoyable performances, and preparing us for the fuller musical sustenance that was to follow after the interval.


Adrian Williams Winter Chorale , commissioned by I Fagiolini and receiving its London premiere, is reported to have two starting points: Wie soll ich dich empfangen from Bach's Christmas Oratorio and Laurie Lee's poem Christmas Landscape . However it opens with the familiar text of the Kyrie eleison before a plaintive alto solo (William Purefoy), thin as reed, starts to sketch out the icy setting where “the wind gnaws with teeth of glass”. Verbal emphasis is placed on the lack of moon that night, but touches of Bach's music in the orchestration provide a thread of warmth and light leading to the birth of the child. I found it an interesting and effective work, amply demonstrating the skill of choir, soloists and orchestra (the AAM solid on unfamiliar ground), and one I would welcome hearing again.


But the best had been held to last. Bach's Missa Brevis broke through the confines of enjoyment and took the concert to a higher level of distinction. The orchestra were back in their element and lovely solos from Carys Lane , Clare Wilkinson and Giles Underwood all made their mark.


Serena Fenwick