Review / Inspiring concert of discovery into JS Bach

Music / “Bach and His World”. Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. At Llewellyn Hall, May 24. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY

CURRENTLY on its third tour of Australia, Tafelmusik brings with it a new music director who is also the lead violin, Elisa Citterio, and an immersive visual and audio experience on JS Bach and his world.

The music of Bach and his time, played, performed, seen and spoken about in this presentation gave an insight to what it was like to live in the time that Bach did in Leipzig in Germany from 1723 to 1750. The story was narrated and played out by Canadian actor and director Blair Williams, who had a gloriously clear and strong voice.

The double bass player in Tafelmusik, Alison Mackay, created the concept and program for “Bach and His World”. As the show began, images of Apollo and Mercury, patron gods of the city of Leipzig whom Bach used as inspiration for some of his music, were shown on the large screen.

The musicians moved around the stage like a band of travelling players might have and as a single voice came to the forefront, so did the player to perform their solo, which made the music standout. This was a musical play, a story with sound, spoken word and pictures. Even the lighting played a strong part in the telling of the story, highlighting soloist and duos as the night unfolded.

Every performer bar the harpsichordist played their music from memory, and the narrator performed from memory. This was a startling feat of study as the concert went for two hours.

The sound that Tafelmusik makes is as if they are all playing as one and only one sound can be heard, that’s how good this group is at performing together. There were 22 pieces of Bach played on the night; cantatas, sonatas, orchestral suites and some of his most known works, such as  the partita for solo violin in D minor.

Many scenes were set out and played, such as a demonstration of Bach’s regular café concerts where the string and wind players would gather around the harpsichordist as the patrons looked on, which was acted out with a long white pipe and beer stein by the narrator in a luxury leather chair.

Another scene showed how Bach taught his students to create music. From one progression they displayed how he built a musical canon and then the players began to sing this one line of music and then encouraged the audience to join in, which they did with gusto. From that canon, they proved how it became the progression to the beginning of the “Goldberg Variations”.

Tafelmusik has created a unique and insightful program into the life of JS Bach. It not only engaged the audience, it motivated them. There was much more in this concert than can fit into one review, but what they showed was that even though Bach’s music, which is regularly played and heard, they can offer a new and refreshing insight into Bach and his world.

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