René Jacobs, Kammerorchester Basel, Zürcher Sing-Akademie
Im, Dutilleul, Vistoli, Strotmann, Debus
D. Scarlatti: Salve Regina / J.S. Bach: Cantata BWV 147; Magnificat in D, BWV 243
Stadtcasino, Basel, 2022-12-20
2022-12-31 — Original posting
Festliches Vorweihnachtskonzert mit dem Kammerorchester Basel — Zusammenfassung
Für das letzte Konzert vor Weihnachten 2022 unter der Leitung von René Jacobs “borgte” sich das Kammerorchester Basel die Zürcher Sing-Akademie. Zur Aufführung gelangte das selten gespielte letzte Werk von Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757), das “Salve Regina” in A-dur für Mezzosopram, Streicher und Contionuo. Danach folgten zwei bekannte Werke von Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750): die Kantate “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben”, BWV 147, sowie nach der Pause das “Magnificat” in D-dur, BWV 243.
Als Solisten wirkten Sunhae Im (Sopran Südkorea), Coline Dutilleul (Mezzosopran, Frankreich), Carlo Vistoli (Altus, Italien, kurzzeitig eingesprungen für den Spanier Alberto Miguélez Rouco), Fabian Strotmann (Tenor, Deutschland, aus den Reihen der Sing-Akademie eingesprungen für den deutschen Tenor Magnus Dietrich), sowie Yannick Debus (Bass-Bariton, Hamburg).
Die beiden Werke von Bach sind sehr bekannt, das Konzert im Stadtcasino Basel entsprechend ausverkauft. Ein festliches, insgesamt nicht nur kommerziell sehr erfolgreiches Konzert, welches den hochgesteckten Erwartungen durchaus gerecht wurde. Einzig das Salve Regina von Domenico Scarlatti vermochte nicht gänzlich zu überzeugen, schien das doch eher Musik für einen liturgischen Rahmen, deren intime Aspekte im großen Saal des Stadtcasinos kaum zum Tragen kamen.
Table of Contents
- Concert & Review
- D. Scarlatti: “Salve Regina” in A major for Mezzo Soprano, Strings, and Continuo
- Bach: Cantata BWV 147, “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben”
- Composer & Work
- The Performance
- I. Chorus: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben
- II. Tenor: Gebenedeiter Mund (Recitative)
- III. Altus: Schäme dich, o Seele, nicht (Aria)
- IV. Bass: Verstockung kann Gewaltige verblenden (Recitative)
- V. Soprano: Bereite Dir, Jesu, noch itzo Bahn (Aria)
- VI. Chorale “Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe”
- VII. Tenor: Hilf, Jesu, dass ich auch Dich bekenne (Aria)
- VIII. Altus: Der höchsten Allmacht Wundermacht (Recitative)
- IX. Bass: Ich will von Jesu Wundern singen (Aria)
- X. Chorale “Jesus bleibet meine Freude”
- Bach: “Magnificat” in D major, BWV 243
|Venue, Date & Time||Stadtcasino, Basel, 2022-12-20 19:30h|
|Series / Title||Kammerorchester Basel — Magnificat|
|Related blog posts||René Jacobs in earlier concert and media reviews|
The Kammerorchester Basel in earlier concert reviews
The Zürcher Sing-Akademie in earlier concert reviews
Reviews from concerts in the Stadtcasino Basel
In the interest of (relative) compactness, I’m limiting the artist information to for the bare minimum. For the details on the artist’s biographies I’m referring to their Websites and / or Wikipedia entries, via the links below.
At the center of the performance was the Kammerorchester Basel (The Basel Chamber Orchestra). The ensemble was founded 1984. See the German Wikipedia for details (or my earlier reviews on concert performances with this ensemble). Often, the orchestra performs under the direction of its concertmaster, currently Daniel Bard (*1985, see also Wikipedia). Daniel Bard was at the first desk also in this concert. Since 2015, the orchestra’s principal guest conductor is Giovanni Antonini (*1965).
The orchestra regularly works with a number of additional conductors, such as Trevor Pinnock (*1946), Mario Venzago (*1948), Heinz Holliger (*1939), René Jacobs, Christophe Rousset (*1961), and others.
The Kammerorchester Basel performed with a string body of 5 + 4 violins, 3 violas, 2 cellos, and one double bass. Then, there were 2 traversos, 2 baroque oboes (alternatively oboe d’amore and oboe da caccia), bassoon, 3 natural trumpets, timpani, a chest organ, and theorbo. The wind instruments were all baroque. Violin and viola players were presumably performing on gut strings. As far as I could make out from the distance of the balcony, they were using early classic (not Tourte type, nor proper baroque) bows. I believe that the violins and violas were modern or modernized. This means that compared to original baroque instruments, they feature longer necks, steeper and longer fingerboards. The cellos looked like proper baroque instruments without endpin, held between the knees.
Direction: René Jacobs
Conductor in this concert was the Belgian conductor (former countertenor) René Jacobs (*1946). Jacobs is one of today’s most prominent conductors in the area of historically informed performances.
There were five vocal soloists in this performance. Two of these were short-term replacements for artists in the original concert announcements and booklet:
- Sunhae Im (*1976, South Korea, see also Wikipedia), soprano
- Coline Dutilleul (France), mezzo soprano
- Carlo Vistoli (*1987, Lugo / Ravenna), altus. Carlo Vistoli was stepping in for the countertenor Alberto Miguélez Rouco (*1994, Spain)
- Fabian Strotmann (*1985, Germany), tenor, is a member of the Zürcher Sing-Akademie. He was performing in lieu of the German tenor Magnus Dietrich.
- Yannick Debus (*1991, Hamburg), baritone
Choir: Zürcher Sing-Akademie
The choir in this performance was the Zürcher Sing-Akademie—a formation that I don’t need to introduce: I have in the past reviewed around 12 performances featuring this professional ensemble. The choir was founded in 2011, initially, under the direction of Timothy Brown (*1946). Since 2017, the chorus master is Florian Helgath (*1978). For this concert, however, the preparation of the choir was in the hands of Michael Gläser (*1957).
In this concert, the choir consisted of 6 sopranos, 6 altos, 4 tenors, and 6 basses, whereby in the Magnificat, the soloists (mostly) joined in, performing from within the choir. This made sense for a bigger sound. At the syame time, it (partially) corrected the understaffing in the tenor, caused by the temporary move of Fabian Strotmann into the ensemble of soloists.
- Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757): “Salve Regina” in A major for mezzo soprano, strings, and continuo
- Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750): Cantata BWV 147, “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben“
- Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750): “Magnificat” in D major, BWV 243
The event was sold out, the venue really at its capacity limit—not just in terms of seating, but also in terms of space in the foyer, the stairs, the waiting times in wardrobes, etc.
I received central seats in row 3 of the main (rear) balcony. These are among the best in that venue: with excellent view, and offering a well-balanced, unbiased soundscape.
Concert & Review
D. Scarlatti: “Salve Regina” in A major for Mezzo Soprano, Strings, and Continuo
Composer & Work
The Italian composer (Giuseppe) Domenico Scarlatti (1685 – 1757) was born in Naples, but spent most of his life in Madrid, where he also composed the works that he is well-known for: his over 550 keyboard sonatas. It is little known that Scarlatti also composed operas, cantatas, and liturgical music. Among the latter, essentially just two are still performed today: his Stabat Mater from 1715, and the Salve Regina from 1753.
The Salve Regina is included in the vast compendium of Italian music that the Roman priest, musician and composer Fortunato Santini (1777 – 1861) collected. Santini’s autograph copy states that this is Scarlatti’s last composition, created “a little before he died” (Ultima delle sue Opere fatta in Madrid poco prima di morire).
The Salve Regina is a prominent, roman-catholic, Marian hymn, with the following, Latin text:
Salve, Regina, Mater misericordiæ,
vita, dulcedo, et spes nostra, salve.
Ad te clamamus exsules filii Evæ,
Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle.
Eia, ergo, advocata nostra, illos tuos misericordes oculos ad nos converte.
Et Jesum, benedictum fructum ventris tui, nobis post hoc exsilium ostende.
O clemens, O pia, O dulcis Virgo Maria.
This translates to
Hail, holy Queen, Mother of Mercy,
Hail our life, our sweetness and our hope.
To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve;
To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning and weeping in this valley of tears.
Turn then, most gracious advocate, thine eyes of mercy toward us.
And after this our exile, show unto us the blessed fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
O clement, O loving, O sweet Virgin Mary.
Domenico Scarlatti’s Salve Regina is set for soprano, strings, and basso continuo. In modern terms, it’s rather for mezzo soprano, with its vocal range from c’ up to e”. The score title is “Salve Regina in A major”. However, the notation is using two sharps only, like D major—the missing accidental (G♯) is written into the text. That’s something that also Bach often used. The first part of the composition is without tempo annotation—like a recitativo accompagnato, or rather an arioso. All of the segments below are performed attacca and form a single, fragmented movement. The numbering below just serves as references in the comments below:
- “Salve Regina” (3/4) —
- “Ad te clamamus“: Andante (Ｃ) — “exsules filii Evæ“: Grave (3/4) —
“Ad te clamamus“: Andante (Ｃ) — “exsules filii Evæ“: Grave (3/4) —
- “Ad te suspiramus“: Adagio (Ｃ) —
- “Eia, ergo“: Andante (Ｃ) —
- “nobis post hoc exsilium“: Andante (₵) —
- “O clemens, O pia“: Adagio (3/4) — Maggiore —
- “Amen“: Allegro (₵)
I liked Coline Dutilleul‘s beautiful, warm voice, her vocalisation, her long breath, the harmonious phrases. In the first part (Salve), there were rare instances of Nachdrücken in tied notes (unintended swelling at the end), and rarely, her voice was a tad nervous—nothing serious, though. On the other hand, her cadenza on the last fermata was really beautiful.
The “Ad te clamamus” (2) proved more of a challenge. The lowest notes (at the edge of the singer’s range) and the semiquaver coloraturas in the low register lacked projection / volume. Also in the Grave parts (exsules filii Evæ), the voice was in danger of drowning in the orchestra sound (see also below).
Coline Dutilleul interpreted (3), Ad te suspiramus, as a proper, intense recitativo accompagnato. It is partly without continuo. Sadly, here, too, the dramatic expression in the voice often had problems penetrating the sound of the accompaniment.
A definitive highlight of the performance was in Eia, ergo (4): not only did the lively character of the music suit Coline Dutilleul’s voice, but that part also was among the best in terms of balance between orchestra and voice. The lighter articulation in the orchestra certainly also helped. Similar things can be said about the Amen (7). The nobis post hoc exsilium (5) came close to that, even though there were segments where the orchestra was too loud. However, the soloist’s long breath paid off on the long, resting notes in the middle, which worked out amazingly well, and the short cadenza at the end of the vocal part was beautiful and fitting.
I liked the sonority in the orchestra, the internal balance. However, as accompaniment to the solo part, the orchestra was often too loud, or alternatively, should have used shorter / lighter articulation, in order to let the voice flourish. Or, to give the voice enough “space” in the coloraturas and low segments in 2 (Ad te clamamus — exsules filii Evæ).
The above balance issues weren’t just with the high strings, but also with the continuo (typically theorbo, two cellos, violone, and chest organ). The continuo foundation often sounded rather prominent, dense, if not “thick”. I suspect that the “overstaffing” or the excess volume / legato articulation was meant to help “filling the venue”. And yes, it did sufficiently fill the hall—but at the expense of the balance with the soloist.
The soloist interpreted the O clemens, O pia (6, Adagio) as intimate prayer, mostly p, except for the occasional, expressive exclamations. Even though the violin voices were played by soloists, they were often too prominent, should have been softer when accompanying the soloist. The score shows f only when the voice pauses, otherwise is p for the instruments.
The Amen (7) was relatively fast, close to a virtuoso piece for the soloist. It is not more than understandable that Coline Dutilleul changed several passages to a higher, more brilliant position. This definitely suited the performance and the music. And it allowed her to demonstrate strength, volume, and beauty of her voice in a range that suits her most.
Undoubtedly, Domenico Scarlatti’s music is really beautiful. Still, the performances left me with a feeling of partial dissatisfaction. Upon consideration, I came to the following conclusions:
- I don’t think this is music for a concert hall. Certainly not for a venue as big as this one. It rather is a liturgical piece, to be performed in a church.
- The size of the venue probably caused the extra volume, the occasional, excessively broad articulation in orchestra.
- This also defeated the intimate character of the piece.
- The composition is challenging for the soloist, mostly due to its low range. With the accompaniment in this performance and this venue, the piece called for a mezzo soprano with a huge voice.
- I suspect that the lack of intimacy unfortunately also caused the fragmentation of the piece (the frequent tempo / character changes) to dominate the listener’s impression, hereby preventing “listener engagement”. It certainly did so from the distance of the rear balcony.
Bach: Cantata BWV 147, “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben“
Composer & Work
Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750) wrote several hundred cantatas, of which over 200 survived the centuries. Among these, the Cantata “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben“, BWV 147 (Heart and mouth and deed and life) is one of the bigger and most well-known church cantatas. It is part of Bach’s first Leipzig cantata cycle. He wrote it for Friday, 1723-07-02, on the occasion of the Marian feast of the Visitation.
The cantata BWV 147 is written for choir, four soloists (SATB), trumpet, 2 oboes (also oboe d’amore and oboe da caccia), bassoon, strings, and basso continuo. It features two parts:
- Chorus “Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben” (Heart and mouth and deed and life)
- Recitativo accompagnato (tenor) “Gebenedeiter Mund” (Blessed mouth)
- Aria (alto) “Schäme dich, o Seele, nicht” (Do not be ashamed, o soul)
- Recitativo (bass) “Verstockung kann Gewaltige verblenden” (Astonishment might dazzle the mighty)
- Aria (soprano) “Bereite Dir, Jesu, noch itzo Bahn” (Prepare, Jesus, even now the path for Yourself)
- Chorale “Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe” ([It is] well with me that I have Jesus)
Second Part (after the sermon)
- Aria (tenor) “Hilf, Jesu, dass ich auch Dich bekenne” (Help, Jesus, help that I may also acknowledge You)
- Recitativo (alto) “Der höchsten Allmacht Wundermacht” (The wondrous hand of the exalted Almighty)
- Aria (bass) “Ich will von Jesu Wundern singen” (I will sing of Jesus’ wonders)
- Chorale “Jesus bleibet meine Freude” (Jesus shall remain my joy)
Here now, the choir entered the scene. It performed in two rows in the rear of the podium, 6 sopranos, 6 altos, 4 tenors, 6 basses.
I. Chorus: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben
Splendid, brilliant, this sound of the natural trumpet, which instantly dominated the scene! Virtuosic, light, clean, despite the fairly challenging, fast tempo. The choir demonstrated its virtuosic potential, with light, effortless articulation and in all the coloraturas, clean throughout. One quibble: in the ensemble sound, the male voices, particularly the basses, appeared to lack some weight. More than that, I found it somewhat unfortunate that the entire movement felt a little too fast, driven in fact, and with this, too smooth, too sleek—why? Shouldn’t this primarily be dancing, joyful?
II. Tenor: Gebenedeiter Mund (Recitative)
Excellent, Fabian Strotmann‘s lyrical tenor! A voice with “ping”, but not excessively metallic, projecting very well, clear in diction and vocalisation, clean in the intonation, and effortlessly covering the range in this recitative (d – a’)!
III. Altus: Schäme dich, o Seele, nicht (Aria)
A voice with a nice, warm timbre, with good volume and flexibility, without problems projecting between the oboe d’amore and the continuo. Carlo Vistoli did have a certain tendency towards “volume irregularities”, which brought some excess drama into the aria. I would have preferred a voice with a more “linear flow”, i.e., smoother dynamic phrasing. That slight deficiency was compounded by the fairly “busy” theorbo in the continuo—an observation that applied to several of the recitatives and arias.
IV. Bass: Verstockung kann Gewaltige verblenden (Recitative)
Yannick Debus‘ voice has plenty of volume, drama, and the necessary amount of “ping”. Also diction and vocalisation were good—though I missed some tonal clarity in the short note values. The singer used some freedom in following Bach’s vocal line—which to a certain degree is acceptable, assuming that recitatives are a sort of Sprechgesang. I was following the score, yet would have had trouble writing down the actual vocal line. Some of this can be attributed to the rather (excessively) strong continuo. Yes, the text is a strong, firm, even dramatic statement—the continuo was slightly overdoing the drama.
V. Soprano: Bereite Dir, Jesu, noch itzo Bahn (Aria)
A prominent feature in the soprano aria is the violin solo, mostly in semiquaver triplets, beautifully played and articulated by Daniel Bard, the concertmaster. Sunhae Im picked up the solo violin’s gently swaying motion. Her bright, well-projecting, lively and youthful voice shone above the continuo, partnered with and complemented the violin solo. Occasionally, especially in highlights, her vibrato was somewhat strong, maybe a tad too dramatic? In contrast to the bass voice, though, both the singer and the solo violin had of course no problem setting themselves apart from the strong continuo foundation.
VI. Chorale “Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe“
Here, René Jacobs selected a very fluent pace. He probably wanted to avoid solemnly celebrating the (too) well-known movement. I can understand the desire to set the interpretation apart from the romanticising piano arrangements, such as the ubiquitous one by the British pianist, Dame Julia Myra Hess (1890 – 1965). However, here, this avoidance led to inappropriate unrest throughout the movement, to the impression that the orchestra was “driven”, musically (not technically, of course) at the limit.
The Zürcher Sing-Akademie lived up to its reputation, excellent in clarity (diction, intonation, articulation, dynamics and phrasing), homogeneous voices, a balanced soundscape. Actually, the clarity in dynamic contrasts and phrasing tended to be a little overdone: the choir performance felt a tad didactic, technical. Aren’t chorales derived from community singing?
VII. Tenor: Hilf, Jesu, dass ich auch Dich bekenne (Aria)
Also here, Fabian Strotmann‘s slender, but poignant, “pingy”, well-projecting voice came to full bearing! As for the accompaniment: Bach asks for bassoon, cello, and violone in the upper voice, above a ciphered bass line for organ or harpsichord. Here, the theorbo was following the semiquaver triplets in the bass line throughout, which led to some domination of that voice. In my opinion, a well-articulating organ stop might have served that purpose just as well, if not better (less dominating), while for the theorbo it would have been sufficient to mark the quavers.
VIII. Altus: Der höchsten Allmacht Wundermacht (Recitative)
A beautiful recitative, between the gentle, mellow sound of the two oboe da caccia (parallel almost throughout, in thirds and sixths), and a scarce, chordic continuo foundation. My first impression was that the vocal line (Carlo Vistoli) felt a bit short-breathed. However, he did link associated phrases, so this must have been a matter of articulation / vocalisation: a little too “détaché“. I would have preferred more legato, more focus on the melody line: this would not necessarily cause a loss in recitative character.
IX. Bass: Ich will von Jesu Wundern singen (Aria)
The richest of the arias in this cantata, with (naturally somewhat dominating) natural trumpet, two oboes, strings, and basso continuo. Yannick Debus showed beautiful cantilenas, long phrases, an excellent balance between clarity in articulation and melodicity. In the upper range, his baritone voice effortlessly projected through the rich accompaniment. Only in the lower bass register, the voice occasionally tended to disappear in the sound of the continuo.
X. Chorale “Jesus bleibet meine Freude“
The final chorale is identical to the one at the end of the first part (Wohl mir, dass ich Jesum habe), just with different text. Here, however, the soloists joined the choir, which resulted in an even more festive soundscape. This may have contributed to the impression that this was more solemn, slightly less “driven”, maybe a tad broader? Still, the orchestra might have been a little calmer—also a matter of articulation and phrasing? The choir, however, definitely felt broader, less poignant / didactic in the dynamics, more harmonious.
Overall Rating: ★★★★
Bach: “Magnificat” in D major, BWV 243
Johann Sebastian Bach’s Magnificat, BWV 243 is a composition originally written for Christmas 1723, in the same year as the above Cantata BWV 147. It is Bach’s first liturgical composition in Latin, written in E♭ major, now known as BWV 243a. In 1733, he revised his Magnificat, probably for the feast of Visitation (which would have been 1723-05-31). He removed the four Christmas hymns and changed the key to D major and slightly altered / expanded the instrumentation (substituting the two recorders for traversos). The version in D major (now BWV 243) became the standard version and is one of Bach’s most popular vocal works.
In its 1733 version, the composition is set for choir (SATB), five solo singers (SSATB), 3 trumpets, timpani, two traversos, two oboes (also oboe d’amore), strings, and continuo. Bach divided the text (all from the Gospel of Luke, with the addition of the Doxology) as follows:
- Chorus “Magnificat anima mea Dominum“
- Aria (soprano II) “Et exultavit spiritus meus in Deo salutari meo“
- Aria (soprano I) “Quia respexit humilitatem ancillae suae ecce enim ex hoc beatam me dicent…”
- Chorus “Omnes generationes“
- Aria (bass) “Quia fecit mihi magna qui potens est et sanctum nomen ejus“
- Duetto (alto, tenor) “Et misericordia ejus a progenie in progenies timentibus eum“
- Chorus “Fecit potentiam in brachio suo dispersit superbos mente cordis sui“
- Aria (tenor) “Deposuit potentes de sede et exaltavit humiles“
- Aria (alto) “Esurientes implevit bonis et divites dimisit inanes“
- Terzetto (soprano I + II, alto) “Suscepit Israel puerum suum recordatus misericordiae suae“
- Chorus “Sicut locutus est ad patres nostros Abraham et semini ejus in saecula.”
- Chorus “Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto“
- Chorus “Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper et in saecula saeculorum. Amen.”
Translations are found in the Wikipedia entry for “Magnificat”.
Here now, the five soloists (SSATB) joined the Zürcher Sing-Akademie for the entire performance. For the solo pieces and the duet, the soloists were stepping to the front of the podium, next to René Jacobs. This brought the choir to a strength of up to 8 + 7 + 5 + 7 (SATB), or 4 + 4 + 7 + 5 + 7 (SSATB). The orchestra was performing with both violin voices at the left, the continuo in the center, followed by the wind instruments on the right (oboes and traversos in the front, bassoons and trumpets in the rear), timpani at the far right.
Not surprisingly, René Jacobs’ tempo was fluent, though (for once) not excessively driven. For the Zürcher Sing-Akademie, a professional choir, the chosen pace was of course not a challenge. It retained coordination, clarity in the coloraturas, homogeneity and overall balance in the voices (SSATB).
To those who know this music from performances with modern instruments, the trumpets probably made the biggest difference here: not the brilliant, modern, valved clarin trumpets, but natural trumpets (narrow bore, with holes in lieu of valves). These sound more mellow, somewhat softer, less poignant. Rather, they offer more color. They are more challenging to play—however, the brass players were brilliant: if there were any mishaps, they were rare and absolutely negligible.
II. Et exultavit
Light in the articulation, relatively fluid in the tempo—at the limit (e.g., for articulation and coordination in the demisemiquavers), slightly driven. I felt that the fluid pace did not allow for enough rhythmic differentiation—wasn’t there a trace of “quaver stomping”, especially in the continuo?
Here, the alto part was performed by Coline Dutilleul. From the tonal range, this aria definitely suited her better than Scarlatti’s Salve Regina: she could expose the beauty and naturalness her timbre, volume, projection. Sadly the very fluid pace had some detrimental effects on her part: there was little chance to indulge in cantilenas. Often (strangely?), the part felt slightly short-breathed. On the other hand, the tempo also led the soloist to over-emphasize long notes (the f”♯ in bar #31, the d” in bar #37, etc.), rather than starting these gently, letting them evolve.
Bach did not write a fermata on the first note in bar 78. Nevertheless, it would have been nice if René Jacobs would have allowed for a little “space to breathe”, to allow the soloist to let her closing phrase (bars 78 – 80) bloom, like a kind of “mini-cadenza“.
III. Quia respexit
A reflective piece, with a beautiful oboe d’amore solo (Katharina Arfken). The pace was a proper Adagio (calm, not dragging). Here, it was Sunhae Im‘s voice which proved a little too lively, too dramatic (in the vibrato, in particular). I think that this solo could and should be a little more lyrical.
IV. Omnes generationes
Virtuosic, fast, brilliant in the coloraturas, diligent in the dynamics—excellent! A striking divergence from the score, as we know it: On the fermata in bar #24, the second soprano switches back to d” (d” – c”♯ – d”), and René Jacobs purposefully (excessively?) expanded the fermata on the resulting chord (E♯ – G♯ – B – D in lieu of E♯ – G♯ – B – C♯), further highlighting it by having the choir continue pp. Both versions are dissonant—I prefer the (original?) version with C♯.
V. Quia fecit mihi magna
For once, the tempo was relatively calm—presumably to accommodate the preference of the soloist (Yannick Debus). Also here, Bach’s music suited the singer’s voice extremely well. One of my quibbles were in the soloist’s tendency to drag. In fact, I would have preferred a somewhat more fluid pace (and I suspect that this would have been René Jacobs’ preference, too!). Also, occasionally, there was a slight tendency with the singer to approach a note “from below”—hardly noticeable, though.
VI. Et misericordia
Here, the solo parts were filled by Carlo Vistoli (altus) and Fabian Strotmann. Both are excellent soloists—no complaints there. I noticed some balance issues, though: especially in the first part, the altus voice dominated. Was the tenor afraid of oppressing the altus? On a more general level, the orchestra seemed rather loud, not leaving enough “room” for the voices.
VII. Fecit potentiam
Simply put: the Zürcher Sing-Akademie at its best: brilliant, superb, clearly the highlight of the performance, of the entire concert—and this includes the orchestra. Precision and clarity in the coloraturas, internal, dynamic balance, drive, momentum.
One peculiarity: some conductors slow down, maybe even add a fermata on the abrupt superbos in bar #28 (dispersit superbos = he hath scattered the proud). René Jacobs didn’t do that. Instead, he applied the following Adagio already to the general rest on the first beat of bar #29, continuing p on the first mente cordis sui (= in the imagination of their hearts). He switched to a majestic f only when the trumpets set in (bar #32), with the second mente cordis sui, ending in a very broad fermata and pompous timpani. To me, this felt fabricated (Bach didn’t add dynamic annotations). It failed to build tension across the general rest (the tension actually collapsed), and from the text, the p segment doesn’t really make sense to me.
Fabian Strotmann in another brilliant performance: bright, clear, virtuosic in the coloraturas—excellent, despite the fluid pace. The latter initially led to a few (minor) superficialities with the fast notes in the orchestral introduction, but once the ensemble settled in, also the orchestral performance was excellent, technically superb.
Beautiful, beautiful, subtle, the two traversos (Anne Freitag, Regula Bernath)—careful, diligent in articulation and phrasing. The tempo was relaxed, and Carlo Vistoli‘s altus voice was in perfect balance with the two traversos—a marvelous movement!
Yet, there was one little oddity: the traversos end abruptly at the end of bar #42, on the dominant (f”♯ – a”), the cadence follows as a lonely pizzicato (D) on the first crotchet in the final bar. It is unintelligible to me why René Jacobs inserted an extended delay prior to the pizzicato, which sounded disconnected. This felt either (again) fabricated, or like an inappropriate gag. From the smiling in the audience I gathered that many already thought that this note was forgotten entirely.
X. Suscepit Israel
Beautiful! Only the occasional, slightly protruding vibrato in isolated voices affected the simplicity, the naturalness of the three female voices (SSA) in the choir. Needless to say that the intonation was flawless, as expected for a professional choir. For lay choirs, this movement often is a real challenge.
XI. Sicut locutus est
Another excellent performance by the Zürcher Sing-Akademie—with one hiccup, though. Only by the time the first soprano enters the fugato (bar #21), the choir really achieved coherence, coordination. I initially also suspected tempo instabilities. However, this may be because I watched René Jacobs’ conducting. He has a rather peculiar (possibly confusing to many) conducting style (“upwards beating”, often with an irregular upbeat in every bar). This makes it hard for musicians to pick up the exact pace. As a listener, one can simply not look at the conductor in order to avoid visual irritation. Choir and orchestra, however…
XII. Gloria Patri — XIII. Sicut erat in principio
A festive, grandiose ending! Just two remarks: René Jacobs tends to use fluid, if not fast tempos—at the same time, he occasionally tends towards excessive broadening of final fermatas. Often a little overdone, such as here, where it felt a bit too emphatic. As for the vocal part: an excellent ending! For the few bars #29 – #32, the soloists sung as solo quintet. This again demonstrated the excellent mutual integration, the dynamic balance between choir and soloists.
★★★★½ — ★★★★½
Overall Rating: ★★★★
The author would like to express his gratitude to the Kammerorchester Basel, in particular Ms. Claudia Dunkel (Communication & PR), for the invitation and the press tickets to this concert.