To celebrate the Washington Bach Consort’s 35th year, founder J. Reilly Lewis led the group in appropriately celebratory, “occasional” music from the 17th and 18th centuries honoring coronations of monarchs and installations of important civic leaders.
All these commemorations, whether religious or civic, relied on sacred texts — a far cry from today’s custom of choosing secular music for public heads of state. With one exception, Sunday’s unusual program at the National Presbyterian Church was a successful venture, vocally as well as instrumentally.
The afternoon began with J.S. Bach’s cantata BWV, “Preise, Jerusalem, den Herrn,” BWV 119, composed to honor the Leipzig town council’s inauguration in 1748. Bach’s music is all regal pomp reinforced by episodes starring virtuoso players on period reeds, recorders, oboes da caccia, trumpets, timpani and recorders.
Except for an opening movement that was unfocused in both voices and orchestra, the chorus bounced through the piece with jubilant rhythms and contrapuntal precision.
The concert closed with an equally impressive performance of Bach’s cantata “Lobe den Herrn,” BWV 69. The chorus executed an awesome doubled double fugue (two different themes and countersubjects performed separately as two voices, then simultaneously as four) pungently and skillfully. Bass Jon Bruno gave a sterling account of the final aria.
Both John Blow’s “God spake sometime in visions” and William Boyce’s “The king shall rejoice” had sufficient vigor and volume to fill the farthest reaches of an English cathedral, for which they were originally intended.
However, Orlando Gibbons’s coronation Te Deum had a labored sameness and could have been skipped. Handel’s triumphant “My heart is inditing” had clarity, even translucency. Besides Bruno, the excellent vocal soloists were soprano Rebecca Kellerman Petretta, alto Kristen Dubenion-Smith and tenor Joseph Gaines.
Porter is a freelance writer.