Aldeburgh Festival – Bach Cantatas & Motets [La Nuova Musica/David Bates]

Motet: Komm, Jesu Komm!, BWV229
Ich Steh mit einem Fuss im Grabe, BWV156 – Sinfonia
Motet: Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV226
Cantata: Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, zu dir, BWV131
Motet: O Jesu Christ, meins Lebens Licht, BWV118
Cantata: Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit (Actus tragicus), BWV106
Motet: Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, BWV225

La Nuova Musica
David Bates

Reviewed by: Mark Valencia

Reviewed: 19 June, 2011
Venue: Snape Maltings, Aldeburgh, Suffolk

In the idyllic setting of Snape Marshes and the prestigious context of the Aldeburgh Festival we expect to hear music that stimulates mind and soul: sounds that aspire to perfection and occasionally nudge it, or at the very least challenge our expectations with originality or provocation. This matinee performance by La Nuova Musica fell short on every count.

The group’s fluid constitution may be partly to blame for the mediocrity of the music-making. Of the eight singers originally slated to appear, only two made it to the platform (tenor Simon Wall and bass James Arthur) and this 75-percent substitution rate spilled over to the instrumental ensemble wherein a mere handful of players matched the names listed in the Festival book. So it was that a Baroque pick-up band took to the stage of one of the leading music festivals and delivered a concert of plodding dullness.

David Bates directed from the podium with balletic elegance but little sense that he had delved far beyond the notes. His Bach had no story to tell, so Komm, Jesu Komm, whose text offers such an eloquent yearning for peace, was indistinguishable in mood from the jubilant praise of Singet dem Herrn. The eight solo voices blended poorly as a choir, perhaps unsurprisingly in the circumstances, and the string sound was characterless soup. It is no coincidence that the most effective piece was Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit because the string-players had trooped off for a cuppa while the fine duo of David Miller (theorbo) and James McVinnie (chamber organ) treated the audience to a much-needed aural sorbet.

Individual singers made their sporadic mark, and there were outstanding contributions in particular from Wall and his fellow-tenor Andrew Tortise, but collectively the performers appeared not to have absorbed the music into their muscle memory. Ironically, while much of the programme felt under-rehearsed the closing pages of Singet dem Herrn delivered a thoroughly drilled, applause-garnering finale that only served to highlight what might have been.

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