October 2018: An Evening with J S Bach

Saturday 20 October 2018
Sidmouth Parish Church

It was an imaginative idea to present four of Bach’s wonderful motets in a single programme, interspersed with two of his French Suites. It was also a brave one as these motets are far from easy. On instruments the music is reasonably straightforward, but it is a different story when sung. Florid lines demand clear articulation, and where are singers supposed to breathe? Bach makes few concessions, but it is worth noting that originally the vocal parts could sometimes be doubled by instruments. In this performance the reinforcement was confined to a cello doubling the bass line, otherwise the music was a cappella throughout, and considering the comparatively small size of the chorus on this particular occasion the singers acquitted themselves admirably.

The concert opened with the joyful 4-part motet Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden. Perhaps this didn’t quite achieve the gusto it needed, but the choir seemed more assured in the next and best-known motet, the 5-part Jesu, meine Freude. One marvelled at the range of textures Bach manages to achieve in this extended setting, not to mention the stamina of the choir!

After the interval there followed another contemplative motet, Komm, Jesu, komm!, a setting for double choir, and the concert ended with the joyful Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, also for double choir.

The Exeter Festival Chorus, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, was ably conducted once again by its conductor, Nigel Perrin, who has done so much to establish the choir as one of the best in this region.  

Peter Adcock is well-known in Devon, active in a variety of musical activities,  particularly as an able and versatile pianist. He presented two of Bach’s delightful French Suites, one in each half of the concert. It is always going to be a moot point when it comes to playing on the piano works written for harpsichord, but there are good grounds for doing so, such as dynamic variation and greater sustaining power. Peter gave a colourful rendition of the suites, and showed considerable skill in some of his extempore embellishments. There was exuberance in the fast movements, but also a delicacy of touch in the two Sarabandes, moments of tranquillity.

Nicholas Marshall
21 October 2018