In performance: Grace Church Bach Festival
Bach festival features organ but excels at cello
by Joe Banno
The annual Grace Church Bach Festival began Saturday afternoon with a mixed program. The Festival centers most of its events around this Georgetown church’s handsome-sounding pipe organ, and Francine Mate (the Festival’s director and the organist/choirmaster at Grace Church) devised a smart musical selection that provided a showcase for her stylish playing.
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Opening the program with two organ settings of the chorale, “Nun Komm, der Heiden Heiland” – one by Buxtehude (BuxWV 211) and one by Bach (Leipzig Chorale BWV 659) – was a clever idea, especially with Mate choosing a similar registration in both to point up Buxtehude’s clear influence on Bach, and to contrast the stark beauty of the earlier composer against Bach’s more alluring harmonic palette. A third setting of the chorale – another Bach Leipzig Chorale, BWV 661 – possessed a bustling energy and imposing force fascinatingly different from the first two settings. Mate’s reading of Bach’s four-movement Toccata in C-Major was infused with a riot of registral color and played with an ideal blend of virtuosity and structural strength.
Soprano Soo Young Kim Christfield – who boasted pure and soaring high notes, but sounded tentative and underpowered throughout the rest of her range – sang three Bach cantata arias, with an excellent continuo group made up of Mate, violinist Emily Leader, flutist Elisabeth Plunk and cellist Charlie Powers. Powers also gave an uncommonly fine performance of Bach’s D-Minor Cello Suite, BWV 1008. Poised, elegant, supple of phrasing and mellow of tone, his splendid reading was the highlight of the afternoon.
The final event of the Grace Church Bach Festival is a recital by Lawrence Molinaro on Friday at 8 p.m.
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