In performance: Bach Consort
Christmas in January
by Cecelia Porter
The Washington Bach Consort celebrated the recent holiday season Sunday with an exciting "International Christmas" program of choral, organ and harp music directed by J. Reilly Lewis at the National Presbyterian Church. It was the rescheduling of a concert whose original date in December was preempted by winter's chilly blast.
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Now in its fourth decade, the consort, one of America's finest musical ensembles, combined works by composers from more than a half-dozen European nations and the United States. In between the vocal selections, Edward A. Moore played solo works by the German baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach on the sanctuary's magnificent Aeolian-Skinner organ, an instrument providing countless ways to voice musical sound with its more than 6,000 pipes, five keyboards (including the pedal) and seven divisions of pipes at both the front and back of the sanctuary.
Along with Caroline Gregg's splendid harp contribution, the consort women offered a captivating version of Britten's medievalesque "Ceremony of Carols" that virtually re-created the resonance of a stone cathedral setting. The full chorus also sang an array of Christmas carols and Latin chants -- some in imaginative arrangements -- by a host of composers including America's Richard Wayne Dirksen (who died in 2003 after a half-century as Washington National Cathedral's organist and choirmaster -- and was Lewis's early mentor), France's Jean Langlais, Germany's Hugo Distler, Spain's Javier Busto and Slovenia's Damijan Mocnik.
Moore gave brilliant accounts of Bach's organ settings of German congregational hymn tunes that elaborate these melodies with astonishing ornate countermelodies, brazen harmonies and passion -- all tightly condensed to reflect the texts of the originals.
-- Cecelia Porter
January 11, 2010; 2:00 AM ET
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