J. Reilly Lewis and the Washington Bach Consort may no longer qualify as the city's best-kept secret, but that hasn't dimmed their reputation for provocative programming, executed with taste and distinction. These expectations were met, and in most cases exceeded, last night at the Washington Cathedral, where a generous helping of lesser known Bach works left one wishing that the tricentennial spirit of 1985 will sustain its momentum.
The one exception was Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3. The modest string forces were gobbled up sonically, and when they did manage to project, intonation problems afflicted the violas.
These shortcomings, however, became a dim memory after orchestra and chorus performed Bach's Cantata No. 75 "Die Elenden sollen essen" ("The miserable shall eat"). Tenor Bart Hewitt and soprano Gisele Becker were very effective soloists, as was oboist Mary Georgevich in several settings.
Two motets, "Jesu, meine Freude" ("Jesus, my joy") and "Der Gerechte kommt um" ("The righteous perish") captured Bach at his most dramatic, and the Consort at its most communicative. The former, for five-part chorus, is a perfect wedding of text and music, rich in texture. The Consort's reading was incisive, particularly in the exchanges between sopranos and tenors.
"Der Gerechte kommt um" concluded on a thematically troubled, though musically superb count. In this very short piece, the altos and sopranos combined to create a quietly resigned sense of beautiful desolation.