In performance: Washington Bach Consort
Consort gives Bach birthday a familiar ring
by Charles T. Downey
The Washington Bach Consort feted the 325th birthday of its namesake on Sunday afternoon, with a concert of J.S. Bach's instrumental music at the National Presbyterian Church. The ensemble has rightfully earned a devoted local following for its groundbreaking exploration of the early history of baroque music performance. As the years have passed, however, the state of historically informed performance of Bach's music has continued to improve, while the Bach Consort appears happy in some of its concerts to revisit the same well-trodden territory.
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The opening overture movement of the Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C had a relaxed tempo that allowed the music to circle and glide rather than be angled and sharp-cornered, but the players often struggled against it, a tendency to rush that pushed the ensemble out of alignment. The suite's dance movements were more rhythmically incised, making them and the sinfonia of Cantata 42 the most pleasing parts of the playing. In the wreath of 10 entwined string lines that is the third Brandenburg Concerto, the sequential exposure of solo parts was pleasant enough until one reached the third violin and second and third violas.
The exuberant force that keeps the ensemble's pulse beating is its director, J. Reilly Lewis, a Washington institution with his own bobblehead on sale at the concessions stand. Lewis gave the best performances of the program, especially a virtuosic and crisply articulated rendition of the demanding but concise Prelude and Fugue in G for organ (BWV 541). At the harpsichord for the Violin Concerto No. 2 in E, his spirited and colorful realization of the continuo part outshone the violin soloist, who struggled in terms of intonation and technical polish.
-- Charles T. Downey
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