Bach is inspiring in historic church



What better way to start the observance of Holy Week than hearing the music of Bach in a church setting - St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis.

The Annapolis Chorale's Chamber Chorus, the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and a quartet of guest vocalists performed on the eve of Palm Sunday, led by music director J. Ernest Green.

Green opened the concert by explaining that Bach was a devoutly religious man "of intense faith" who composed for the liturgical calendar at Leipzig, Germany's St. Thomas Church, where he served as music director from 1723 until his death in 1750. Green said that St. Thomas Church is similar in size to St. Anne's.

As music director at historic St. Anne's, Green knows how to display singers and musicians to full advantage within the church's space. Also gained in this setting was a degree of flexibility that resulted from the more intimate size of the orchestra.

The program was a small Bach festival offering Prelude and Fugue in C minor, the cantata Ich habe genug, the Double Concerto in D minor (here transposed to the brighter C minor) and the finale - Magnificat in D major.

Former St. Anne's organist Larry Molinaro opened the program with an impressive Prelude and Fugue that filled the church with the sonorous voices of the organ, the grandeur of the instrument establishing a compelling, worshipful tone. Later, when Molinaro joined the orchestra, he was equally impressive on the harpsichord.

Accompanied by the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, baritone Ryan de Ryke sang Ich haben genug, a cantata that celebrates in aria and recitative the Feast of the Purification of the Virgin Mary, dealing with the presentation of Jesus in the temple and the prophet Simeon's meeting the Christ child. With reverential warmth, de Ryke conveyed gentle sincerity in the cradlesong, profound elegance in the recitative prayer and a joyous fervor in the final aria, doing so in "flawless expressive German" according to my German-born companion, Walburga Good. His baritone encompassed a wide vocal range, surmounting high notes as easily as the lowest while summoning great vocal agility as the score required.

Solo oboist James Dickey joined ACO concertmaster Paula McCarthy on violin in the Double Concerto performance in which McCarthy's expressive violin matched Dickey's plaintive oboe. Together, soloists and orchestra created an intertwined, joyous lyricism that seemed layered architecturally on a precisely logical foundation to create gloriously complex music.

The program concluded with Magnificat, a high point in an evening that held several.

The Annapolis Chorale chamber chorus opened brightly in this Latin text that begins "Magnificat anima mea Dominum" ("My soul doth magnify the Lord"), the words spoken by the Virgin Mary to her cousin Elizabeth after learning she will be the mother of the Savior.

The high quality of this performance must be largely attributed to the four gifted soloists, each in excellent voice. Amy Cofield filled St. Anne's with the joyful sound of her clear, expressive soprano that grew increasingly beautiful in her heartfelt "Quia respexit" aria.

An exquisite pairing of voices was heard when mezzo soprano Susan Fleming joined tenor John Artz in the duet "Et misericordia" (And his mercy is on them), with Fleming's creamy voice blending gorgeously with Artz' bright, near-heroic tenor.

Baritone de Ryke brought substance to "Quia fecit mihi magna" ("For he that is mighty hath magnified me"), accompanied by a cello in a compelling voice and instrument duet.

The soprano chorus produced a near-Heavenly sound in "Suscepit Israel puerum" immediately before the final section, "Sicut locutus," sung by the full chorus to end the work on a triumphant note with the full orchestra.

This devout composer's message created over two centuries ago was given new life by the musicians who offered a mystical Magnificat that was not only a memorable performance but a moving religious experience as well for many of us.

This performance closed the programmed Annapolis Chorale 2005-06 season, although a free Musical Open House is scheduled at St. Anne's on April 22 at 7:30 p.m. Call 410-263-1906 for more information.

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