Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hätte in meinem Haupte
Sonata à 5
Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele
Membra Jesu Nostri
Robin Blaze (counter-tenor)
Choir and Camerata of St Peters, Eaton Square
Reviewed by: Timothy Ball
Reviewed: 29 March, 2003
Venue: St Peters Church, Eaton Square, London SW1
This memorable and moving concert of German Baroque music was a salutary reminder that dedicated and committed musicianship is ultimately much more satisfying that flash and hype, even if there was only a comparatively small audience to hear and appreciate it.
The first half of this thoughtfully chosen programme was dominated by the singular artistry of counter-tenor Robin Blaze in three solo cantatas. Through the music of Heinrich Bach (1615-1692), we were eloquently reminded that Johann Sebastian’s genius did not emerge from or exist in a family vacuum, since the former was JS’s grandfather’s brother and, from 1651, organist at Arnstadt.
Ach, daß ich Wassers gnug hätte in meinem Haupte is a lamentation in all but name, with some most poignant harmonies and expressive word-setting. There is an air of repose and contemplation and Robin Blaze’s delivery was emotional without being over-indulgent. He was supported by some effective string playing in ’period’ style, but the group’s tendency to ’swell’ on certain notes and chords for supposedly expressive purposes was something of an irritating mannerism and not to all tastes.
In the instrumental Sonata à 5, the lilting rhythms and harmonic variety were well-realised by the players, and made for an effective contrast in the programme.
Christoph Bernhard’s Was betrübst du dich, meine Seele featured ornamentation in the vocal writing which was most winningly realised, and the wide vocal range here and in Buxtehude’s Klag Lied posed no difficulties for Robin Blaze whose effortless poise and manner were at one with the music.
Membra Jesu Nostri’ is on a larger scale, being a cycle of seven cantatas, each meditating on one of the seven members of the body of Jesus on the cross. The general structure of each cantata is similar, with an instrumental prelude introducing a sung biblical text, which is repeated at the end. In between there are arias or duets whose sometimes quite graphic texts are taken from poetry attributed to St. Bernard of Clairvaux (c.1090-1153). Unusually, for Buxtehude, the words are in Latin throughout. Of around an hour’s duration, the sheer variety of musical expression prevents any possible sense of monotony. In this performance, Andrew Smith did not allow sections to linger unduly; indeed at times there was a sense of urgency and intensity, which gave the work a sense of structural unity.
Robin Blaze joined the choir of twelve voices, from which soloists were drawn. Each had individuality and yet did not detract from the overall blend and excellent sense of integration. Players and singers seemed perfectly attuned to the repertoire as they were to the acoustics. Andrew Smith’s sensitive and unobtrusive direction – led from the harpsichord played most stylishly and discreetly – gave the whole programme a most welcome and refreshing feeling of musical integrity.