The Israel Camerata Jerusalem hosted conductor Reinhard Goebel (Germany) and bass baritone Raimund Nolte (Germany) in a concert focusing on “The Bach Dynasty”. This writer attended the event in the Henry Crown Auditorium of the Jerusalem Theatre on February 14th, 2017. The program featured works by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) and those of four of his sons.
The concert opened with music of Wilhelm Friedemann Bach (1710-1784), Bach’s second child (from his first wife, Maria Barbara) and eldest son. Sinfonia in D-major F.64 is a secular piece which was, however, probably used as the overture to his Pentecost cantata “Dies ist der Tag, da Jesu Leidenskraft” from the time Wilhelm Friedemann was music director and church organist at the Church of Our Lady in Halle as of 1746. Performed in the standard orchestral setting of the style straddling the Baroque and Classical styles - strings and woodwinds (here, not on period instruments), with the presence of the harpsichord playing thorough bass and supported by the ‘cellos - Goebel gave the work a hearty reading, presenting its many fetching, user-friendly melodies, its warmth and energy and its fine woodwind scoring, especially in the second movement, in which the flutes (Esti Rofé, Avner Geiger) featured in tandem. Much of Wilhelm Friedemann’s oeuvre has been destroyed or lost and more the pity. His bold, original and innovative music deserves a more prominent place on today’s concert platforms.
Then to J.S.Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No.3, written possibly when Bach was in Weimar, a work showing Bach’s predilection for the Italian concerto and its characteristic fullness of sound. Scored for strings and harpsichord (with bass), the way the work is written leaves the conductor to decide who the soloists really are to be in any one concert and Goebel’s decision may have surprised some members of the audience: with the rapid (at times breakneck) tempi he chose, it seems that all players, ‘cellos included of course, were involved in virtuosic performance, the listener hastily casting his eyes from one instrument or section to another as each the orchestra’s fine players took up the solo challenge and most effectively. It was a performance of breathless excitement. As to the Phrygian half cadence - two chords in all – making up the second movement, Goebel leaves them “au naturel”, bare of the improvised violin flourishes often heard adorning them.
We then heard “Pygmalion”, a cantata for bass and orchestra by Johann Christoph Friedrich Bach (1732-1795), J.S.Bach’s fifth son and sixteenth child (one of the six surviving children of the thirteen born to Anna Magdalena Bach) and often referred to as “the Bückeburg Bach”: Friedrich Bach spent his entire professional life as concertmaster of the Schaumburg-Lippe court in Bückeburg. A secular cantata to a text of Berlin poet Carl Wilhelm Ramler, “Pygmalion” represents the monodrama genre of the short-lived 18th century melodrama style. It tells of Pygmalion, a Cypriot sculptor who carves a woman out of ivory and falls in love with her. After making offerings at Aphrodite’s altar, the sculpture becomes alive and the sculptor marries her. Considering Friedrich Bach’s somewhat unfortunate reputation for being a bourgeois personality and a lesser composer than his three very famous brothers, it must be said that this finely crafted music reflects the strongest traits of his great siblings. The music for “Pygmalion” is indeed substantial and most graceful, the ample recitatives presenting the content of Ramler’s text with effectiveness and potency. Raimund Nolte’s voice is warm and bright in all registers, both powerful and compassionate, his singing easeful, articulate and clean. Highlighting key words and the various feelings emerging along the work’s emotional course, his performance, both tender and dramatic, was involving, expressive and convincing as he kept keen eye contact with his audience, his facial expression giving meaning to the text. Played elegantly, instrumental passages threw light on the agenda of each moment. Had a World War II airstrike not wiped out the library housing J.C.F.Bach’s manuscript collection, we might be hearing more of this composer’s works in today’s concert halls.
Johann Christian Bach (1735-1782), the “London” Bach, was J.S.Bach’s eleventh and youngest son. In 1762, he took up the position of composer to the King’s Theatre in London, for which he wrote a number of operas. He also wrote orchestral-, chamber- and keyboard music and some cantatas. In 1764, he established his fashionable London concert series together with viol player Karl Friedrich Abel. Employed as music master to Queen Charlotte and her children brought him both financial gain and social connections. Symphony opus 6 No.6 was published in 1770. Its fiery Sturm und Drang style is right down Reinhard Goebel’s alley as he led the players through the dazzling, dramatic string tremolandi and sforzati of the opening movement (contrasting them with intimate moments) and into the restless urgency of the third movement. The Andante piu tosto adagio (second movement) for strings alone was poignant and finely tempered.
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714-1788), J.S.Bach’s fifth child and second son, a composer more-or-less leaning towards the Empfindsamkeit (sensitive) style, was a free spirit in his composing, as he was in life. With audiences of the time judging a work by its degree of novelty, those of C.P.E. Bach ticked all the boxes! Symphony in D-major Wq.176 (H.651), the final work heard in the Camerata concert, was one of the early symphonies composed some time from 1755 to 1758 in Berlin. Under Goebel’s baton, the concise symphony, complete with the composer’s unconventional signature surprise moments, sudden contrasts and joie-de-vivre, moved seamlessly through the movements with buoyant vigour and vividly coloured orchestral playing, to be gone with the wink of an eye.
Musicologist, violinist and conductor Reinhard Goebel (b.1952) has specialized in early music on period instruments. In 1973, he established Musica Antiqua Köln. He has researched and revived interest in music of Johann David Heinichen, Schmelzer, Biber and members of the Bach family.
For several years, Raimund Nolte was a violist with Musica Antiqua Köln. In his opera career, he has appeared in numerous opera houses in Germany, Austria, Strasbourg and France. As a concert soloist, he works with major conductors, also appearing in leading European festivals. His recordings range from music of Bach to that of Bernstein.
Photo: Maestro Reinhard Goebel. Photo: Christina Bleier