Music

Cantate Chamber Singers: Building on Bach

The Cantate Chamber Singers sang works ranging from Bach to 20th-century composer Alfred Schnittke in their season debut Saturday.
The Cantate Chamber Singers sang works ranging from Bach to 20th-century composer Alfred Schnittke in their season debut Saturday. (By Wayne Guenther -- Polaris Photography)
Monday, October 23, 2006

The Cantate Chamber Singers, under Music Director Gisele Becker, reliably present programs that feature both unfamiliar repertoire and intriguing themes. Their season opener, Saturday at St. Paul's Lutheran Church, explored stylistic diversity through three works by the baroque titan Johann Sebastian Bach and through the Requiem of 20th-century composer Alfred Schnittke, which uses both popular and classical styles for its artistic ends.

Bach's famous cantata "Komm, Jesu, Komm" (BWV 229), a richly detailed, fervent setting of a religious text for double choir, drew limpid singing from the divided forces, with Becker managing the antiphonal effects well. Secular concerns -- the renunciation of love and all its perils -- drove the solo cantata "Amore Traditore" (BWV 203); harpsichordist Barbara Weiss sparkled when playing the virtuosic accompaniment, but baritone Steven Combs labored while traversing Bach's instrumentally conceived melodic lines. The choir made great fun, however, from Bach's "Quodlibet" (BWV 524), a family in-joke full of nonsense patter, cheers for alcohol, and frequent (intentional) musical offenses.

Composing three hundred years later, Schnittke tried to integrate all the music he knew and loved with an approach he called "polystylism."

The Requiem juxtaposes pitchless screaming and horror-movie swells and crashes (occasionally augmented by electric guitar) with ethereal textures, haunting melodic swirls and bare, transfixing harmonies. This is not eclecticism for its own sake, though; in the Requiem, Schnittke unifies and transforms all these materials into something new, startling and devastatingly powerful. Becker and the Cantate Chamber Singers put equal commitment into every note of their precise, riveting performance.

-- Andrew Lindemann Malone


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