The Washington Bach Consort finished its 10th season of free lunchtime cantatas yesterday in the Church of the Epiphany on G Street NW, with the unfamiliar Cantata 176, "Es ist ein trotzig und verzagt Ding" ("There is something stubborn and unhappy in the hearts of all men"). This may have been the first Washington performance, but if the consort's music director, J. Reilly Lewis, has his way it will not be the last.
Before the performance, he asked how many in the audience had heard this music before, and not a single hand was raised. He noted that the consort is nearing the end of its project to perform all of Bach's cantatas. "Probably in a couple of years," he said, "we will have finished the whole cycle--all 250 . . . then we will start all over again."
The reason this cantata is heard so seldom is certainly not in the music, though the text may be partly responsible; it is baroque poetry at its most obscure and convoluted, full of symbols, scriptural references and rhetorical excesses. The subject is theoretically the Trinity--admittedly not an easy topic for a songwriter--but it dwells more on the poet's awed reluctance to approach God's power and majesty. The music, in contrast, is splendid--from the intricate, contrapuntal opening chorus to the strong, simple closing chorale, with appealing solo recitatives and arias for soprano, alto and bass in between. These were sung in fine baroque style by soloists taken from the 12-voice chorus: soprano Joan McFarland, mezzo-soprano Sara Murphy and bass Timothy Hoyt.
A highlight was Murphy's gently optimistic aria "Ermuntert euch" ("Have courage"), which made such a strong impression that Lewis repeated it before going into the final chorale. To open the program, organist Eric Plutz performed Bach's elaborate Prelude and Fugue in C Minor, BWV 546.