Washington Bach Consort Hits a Milestone, Beautifully

Tuesday, May 9, 2006

The Washington Bach Consort titled its concert Sunday afternoon in the Rachel M. Schlesinger Concert Hall "The Splendor of Bach: Cantata Fest." Something like "Singing for the Cycle" might have better advertised the momentous occasion: With their performances of the cantatas "Dem Gerechten muss das Licht," BWV 195, and "Christen, atzet diesen Tag," BWV 63, under founder and music director J. Reilly Lewis, the WBC has now performed every one of Bach's 200-plus cantatas, a journey that began with the consort's first concert in 1977 and has brought joy to Washington-area listeners ever since.

Both BWV 195 (a wedding cantata) and BWV 63 (written for Christmas) celebrate their respective occasions with brass and timpani to drive robust choruses; the consort's chorus soared and danced through Bach's exalted counterpoint and blended lushly for the dramatic a cappella passages in the finale of BWV 63. Of a solid quartet of soloists, bass Christopheren Nomura stood out; his light, agile voice and his immaculate German diction easily ranged from stentorian recitatives to memorably lyrical arias. And Lewis's conducting gave the religious messages appropriate gravity while springing the music with insistent, infectious rhythms. Happily, Lewis seems eager to begin a new cycle, telling Sunday's audience, "I still have a few years left."

Bach's first Brandenburg Concerto opened the concert. Although the challenge of the period-horn parts was met with variable success, WBC Concertmaster Julie Andrijeski, playing the solo violin part, made this extremely familiar concerto sound fresh. She played with invigorating verve and imagination in virtuoso passages, and her poised, eloquent duet with oboist Washington McClain made the somber melody of the slow movement magnetically intense.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone

© 2006 The Washington Post Company