Concert Review: Bach Festival lives up to heavenly billing
"The Music of Heaven On Earth" is an audacious title for the 107th Bethlehem Bach Festival. Based on the first weekend of this year's festival, it has the ring of truth.
The festival, which is repeated May 9 and 10 mostly on the Lehigh University campus, offers a full immersion for the Bach devotee, from scholarly lectures, to a comparison of early and later Cantatas to the centerpiece, "The Mass in B Minor." Approximately 1,000 attend each weekend.
If you haven't been to the festival, the "Mass" is the place to start, in two Saturday afternoon concerts, each a brisk one hour in length.
The 84-voice Bach Choir, 39-musician Festival Orchestra and world-renowned soloists indeed create an other-worldly sound with the "Mass."
Highlights of the May 3 "Mass" opening concert: the choir's opening "Kyrie" chorus, welcoming like an old friend; the "Kyrie" duet by Agnes Zsigovis, soprano, and Rosa Lamoreaux, soprano; the tympani and brass emphasizing the choir's forceful voices in the "Gloria" chorus; Lamoreaux's "Laudamus" aria, with Elizabeth Field, violin, in the "Gloria"; Zsigovis and Benjamin Butterfield, tenor, seeming to rise to the occasion of each other's clarity in the "Gloria," and Daniel Lichti, bass, with Anthony Cecere, French horn, in the "Gloria" aria.
Highlights of the May 3 "Mass" concluding concert: a stunning "Credo" duet by Zsigovis and Daniel Taylor, countertenor, the precision of the choir on the "Et incarnatus" chorus and the transition from the whisper of the "Crucifixus" chorus to the shout of the "Et resurrexit" chorus; William Sharp, baritone, with Mary Watt and Nobuo Kitagawa, oboes d'amore, and Charles Holderman, bassoon, for the "Et in Spiritum" aria of the "Credo"; and Butterfield and Robin Kani, flute, in beautiful contrast during the "Benedictus" aria of the "Sanctus."
The May 2 "Cantatas" afternoon program was distinctive for the arias of Butterfield, Sharp, Zsigovis and Taylor, and solos by Tricia van Oers and Ranier Beckmann, recorders, in Cantata 106; Lichti's sprightly and satisfying solo work in Cantata 56; and the entire Cantata 131, which blended all elements seamlessly.
The May 2 "Cantatas" evening program included the full choir. Sharp was authoritative on Cantata 19; Loretta O'Sullivan's cello was a superb compliment to Zsigovis and Taylor's aria in Cantata 78; and Cantata 34 opened with an outstanding heraldic fanfare.
For the first two weekends in May, for more than a century, Bethlehem becomes the epicenter for the classical choral and baroque concert world of Bach. This year's Bach Festival is one of the best ever. And, yes, the festival lives up to its title. It's heavenly.
Tickets: bach.org, 610-866-4382, 888-743-3100