Sunday, November 28, 2010

Christmas Oratorio - J S Bach

Wrapped up like a spaceman against the searing cold, I was fifteen minutes early for Bach's Christmas Oratorio at St. Cuthbert's, Wells last night. Just as well - I got a front seat.

The Oratorio comprises six cantatas, of which four were played last night. The orchestra and Beaumont singers (below) were excellent, despite having to perform in the unheated church.

Highpoints: the violins swooping and gliding over the cello and double-bass; Cressida Nash on cello who never seemed to stop working; the astonishingly high and pure voice of countertenor Simon Clulow.

After the interval a smartly-bearded, black-tied man addressed us from the pulpit.

"Cheapskates! Pennypinchers! Oh you who would cut all funding to the arts!

"No, not you ladies and gentlemen. The sentiments of Johann Sebastian Bach addressing Leipzig Council as they further reduced the stipends available to pay university students to fill in the vacancies in the church orchestras."

The man then read a ten-page memo written in 1730 in which Bach itemises the poor quality of the singers and instrumentalists at his disposal (naming names!), his lack of funds and his resentment at the incessant sniping he's receiving from the Council. All good knockabout stuff, typical of the man and eerily presaging contemporary concerns.

And then it was back to Cantata III and the glittering roller-coaster of baroque counterpoint.