Boulder Bach Fest Ends on a High Note
A review by Marc Shulgold
Heartfelt words of gratitude from the stage, warm waves of applause from a sizable audience – and, as usual, first-rate musicianship from first note to last. Those were the memories for those exiting the fourth and final concert in this year’s 41st Boulder Bach Festival, Sunday afternoon in First Congregational Church. It’s a cliché to report that a good time was had by all. But it’s the truth.
Curiously, music director Zachary Carrettin steered clear of programming the usual send-’em-home-happy bunch of Bach’s greatest hits (until the final work). In fact, he boldly chose a few seriously obscure works instead. Perhaps it was his way of showing respect for the Festival’s concert-goers, who seem well-versed in the world of Baroque music, and eager to discover new worlds.
Consider the attention they paid to the opening piece on the program: Bach’s long and occasionally thorny C-minor solo Cello Suite. Coleman Itzkoff, a likable and supremely talented musician based in New York, addressed the crowd with words of thanks for the experience of participating in the Festival (he drew chuckles when he admitted that he even enjoyed playing the less-important bass parts in Bach cantatas). Itzkoff then challenged his listeners to close their eyes as he played (brilliantly) the Suite’s Prelude. And the folks cooperated in droves.
No surprise that the concert would end with a bang: Bach’s familiar Orchestral Suite No. 2, the one that concludes with a dizzying perpetual-motion flute tour de force, the Badinerie, effortlessly tossed off by Ysmael Reyes. Fine playing by a mini-band of 12 players, led by Carrettin.
What transpired earlier was an intriguing parade of rarely heard works by two Bachs.
For many, the program’s real gem was a vocal rarity not by J.S. Bach. This was a lovely, touching piece by Johann Christoph Bach, who was a cousin of the more famous composer’s father. Evidently, J.C. was well-known and admired in his day – and the motet, Es is nun aus mit meinem Leben (It is all over with my life), certainly confirms his reputation.
Another vocal work by J.C. had been sung earlier in the weekend, and one can only hope that more of this composer’s catalog shows up next year. Supported by unobtrusive playing from harpsichordist/organist Christopher Holman, the quartet, closely gathered in a corner near their accompanist, blended impeccably and brought out all of the resignation in the text (each verse ended with “World, good night!”). Nice solos from soprano Josefien Stoppelenburg and tenor Daniel Hutchings, with the work’s tight harmonies completed by mezzo Claire McCahan and baritone Adam Ewing.
Works with sacred themes by J.S. Bach preceded the motet. A chorale prelude, O Mensch bewein (O man, bewail), was played with sweetness and exquisite phrasing by Holman on the church’s superb organ. A short cantata, Der Herr denket an uns (The Lord is mindful of us), was written for a betrothal, containing – hint, hint – a blessing for the newlyweds “and your children.” More splendid solos from Stoppelenburg, Hutchings and Ewing.
As a final farewell, Carrettin thanked his audience and brought onstage all of the players and singers for a reprise of the gentle harmonies of Bach’s motet, Komm, Jesu, komm, heard on Friday. For many in attendance as performers or listeners, the Festival then ended all too soon.