The Washington Bach Consort's Noontime Cantata Concert Series has become an institution for downtowners seeking a rejuvenating lunch break. Tuesday the Church of the Epiphany was filled to capacity as usual for the ensemble's 50-minute Bach spree.
Conductor J. Reilly Lewis gave an invigorating jump-start to this year's mammoth spate of celebrations marking the 250th anniversary of the composer's death. Tuesday's cantata was "Mein Liebster Jesus Ist Verloren" ("My Precious Jesus Now Hath Vanished"), BWV 154, dating from 1724. It was composed early in Bach's career as cantor at Leipzig's St. Thomas Church. Like many of his works, the manuscript of the cantata suffered from the hands of time. Only a small part of Bach's original version survives. The rest of the score was assembled from copies made by others.
On Tuesday a quartet of soloists (soprano Joan McFarland, alto Grace Gori, tenor Robert Baker and bass Steven Combs), along with the consort's chamber orchestra, approached Bach's telling succession of arias, recitatives and chorales (Lutheran hymns) with buoyant rhythmic drive and a keen sense of the text--based on a baroque allegory of Christians in search of God. Baker's solid support for Bach's lavish solo line allowed him the freedom to comfortably elaborate important words, while Gori infused her arias with poignancy and depth.
And, unlike so many condescending pre-concert talks, Lewis's are informative and lively. Organist Mary Beth Bennett, exploring her instrument's flute stops, brought to life the idyllic ambiance of Bach's Pastorale in F, BWV 590.