Under its founder and director, J. Reilly Lewis, the Washington Bach Consort, one of Washington’s world-class chamber ensembles, presented an adventurous almost three-hour-long program of “Bach, Vivaldi and the Italian Influence” at the National Presbyterian Church on Sunday.
The afternoon’s music demonstrated that, like multitudes of northern European composers, Johann Sebastian Bach fell head over heels for Italian music, which permeated the style and formal structures of his concertos, cantatas, fugues and other works. Heincorporated many Italian compositions, as well as his own previous music, into new works. Or he found an Italian work that drove him to extend it, or inserted a theme from the work into a new composition. In Bach’s day, his refiguring of a composition wasn’t considered plagiarism. Everybody did it.
Sunday’s performance was a glorious venture — despite a few glitches — into Bach’s Italianate leanings, as in a zesty version of Antonio Vivaldi’s Concerto for Trumpet (Josh Cohen), Oboe (Geoffrey Burgess), and Strings in D Major, RV 563, playfully rendered by the ensemble. Todd Fickley took to the organ for Bach’s Fugue in B Minor after Arcangelo Corelli, BWV 579, clearly articulating Corelli’s fugue subject. Bach arranged Francesco Bartolomeo Conti’s solo motet, Languet anima mea, into a languishing solo cantata, BWV 1006, sung by soprano Jennifer Ellis Kampani, though her big voice was a bit wobbly.
Lewis made sure that Venetian spaciousness and light broke through Bach’s dense imitative textures in his Concerto in A Minor after Vivaldi, BWV 593:1. Endless tonal colors were supported by the copious resources of National’s Skinner organ with its four manuals (keyboards) and pedal keyboard.
Soprano Robin Smith, countertenor Chris Dudley, tenor Jason Rylander and baritone Mark Duer poured singular gusto into Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s Magnificat in B-Flat Major, followed by the strings in a spritely Concerto of Tomaso Albinoni. Duer also revealed how successfully Bach could absorb an Italian madrigal’s lust for vengeance in his solo cantata Amore Traditore, BWV 203. To conclude, soloists and chamber choir joined forces for Vivaldi’s vibrant, familiar Gloria, RV 589.
Porter is a freelance writer.