By Edward Kliszus
The American Classical Orchestra’s erudite Artistic Director, Thomas Crawford began the evening’s festivities with an informative, motivational pre-concert talk. Crawford is renowned for his informed, richly endowed descriptions of the provenance of the music performed by the ACO.
Tonight, the New York audience was treated to a program expressing an exquisite musical theme, Healing Bach. The cathedral was filled with enthusiastic viewers. The ensemble, with guest artists, performed at New York City’s magnificent Gothic Revival Church of Saint Vincent Ferrer, designed by architect Jeremiah O’Rourke. The cathedral’s beauty, awe, and grandeur provided a splendid venue for three of J. S. Bach’s magnificent cantatas with its prominent spire, intricate stonework, beautiful stained-glass windows, ornate wood carvings, and the superb mural above the high altar. The cathedral’s stone and wood interior reverberated, creating a rich, complex sound perfect for skilled choral and orchestral music executants.
The concert began with J.S. Bach’s Schwingt freudig euch empor, BWV 36, composed for the first Sunday of Advent and first performed on December 2, 1731, in Leipzig, where Bach was the Thomaskantor. The cantata text is based on a hymn by Philipp Nicolai, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (Wake up, the voice calls us), which is often associated with Advent and the second coming of Christ. With the work’s opening and closing choruses, recitatives, arias, and a duet, the orchestra, choir, and soloists joyfully characterized the music’s festive character, reflecting the anticipation and hope of the Advent season. The opening chorus, Schwingt freudig euch empor (sway joyfully upward), captured the work’s lively rhythms and jubilant melodies.
Tonight’s second cantata was J.S. Bach’s Gleichwie der Regen und Schnee vom Himmel fällt, BWV 18, composed for the 11th Sunday after Trinity. It was first performed on August 8, 1713, in Weimar, where Bach was the court organist and chamber musician. The text of the cantata is based on Isaiah 55:10-12, which compares the word of God to the rain and snow that fall from heaven and nourish the earth. The ensemble’s performance of the music’s lyrical melodies, intricate counterpoint, and rich harmonies contributed to the expressive and contemplative mood of the piece.
The program concluded with J.S. Bach’s Am Abend aber desselbigen Sabbats, BWV 42, a cantata composed for the first Sunday after Easter, also known as Quasimodogenit (second Sunday of Easter). It was first performed on April 8, 1725, in Leipzig, where Bach was the Thomaskantor. The cantata text is based on the Gospel of John, chapter 20, verses 19-31, which recounts the story of Jesus appearing to his disciples on the evening of his resurrection. The ensemble’s effective execution of the work’s intricate counterpoint, expressive melodies, and rich harmonies ensured the dramatic telling of the Gospel story.
Thomas Crawford’s masterful, precise conducting and performance interpretation honored the spirit and meaning of J. S. Bach’s music. The rich sounds of the orchestra’s oboe d’amore, continuo, strings, choir, and soloists maintained the apposite Affektenlehre (doctrine of affections) of the period. The music expressed and evoked specific emotions or affects in the listeners. The audience bathed in their unique reflections of spirituality, warmth, piety, joy, and hope. As Crawford et al. intended, the evening was Healing Bach indeed.
The concert featured sopranos Sherezade Panthaki and Corrine Byrne, mezzo-soprano Sylvia Leith, countertenor Daniel Moody, tenors Brian Giebler and Lawrence Jones, and bass-baritones Edmund Milly and Joseph Parrish. This astounding coterie of gifted musicians presented continuously breathtakingly beautiful and inspired performances. We shall be hearing much from these incredible young artists.
The ACO season closes with an evening of Romantic music by Schumann, Sarasate, and Grieg on May 18 at Alice Tully Hall. It features baritone William Meinert, praised for his “rich, vibrant bass” (Opera Today), and award-winning violinist Rachell Ellen Wong.
Runtime 105 minutes with intermission.
American Classical Orchestra
Thomas Crawford, conductor
Church of St. Vincent Ferrer
Lexington Avenue at 66th Street
New York, NY 10065
Go to aconyc.org or call ACO at 212.362.2727, ext. 4, for tickets and information.
Readers may also enjoy our review of the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony, Organ and Orchestra by the American Symphony Orchestra, and Washington Square at the Axis Theatre.