Prom 38: Solomon’s Knot – Johann Sebastian Bach Cantatas

Es erhub sich ein Streit, BWV19
Herr Gott, dich loben alle wir, BWV130
Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg, BWV149
Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft, BWV50

Solomon’s Knot

Reviewed by: Nick Breckenfield

Reviewed: 14 August, 2019
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

BBC Proms 2019's Prom 38Solomon’s KnotPhotograph: Twitter @solomonsknotSolomon’s Knot arrived at the Proms in no uncertain terms with this late-nighter of punchy Bach Cantatas. A flexible ensemble, founded in 2008 and with a modus operandi that dictates singers perform from memory, here it fielded a band of nineteen players to support the eight vocalists.

This programme could easily have been termed ‘Game of Thrones comes to the Proms’ – as the triumphant choruses by which Bach marked St Michael’s feast day on September 29, for which all these Cantatas were written during the 1720s, celebrate his defeat of a dragon. Bach responded in his Leipzig position with the brightness of four trumpets, joining with strings, continuo (harpsichord and organ), three oboes, and obbligato flute and bassoon. Brought together in this fashion – three full Cantatas, and the only known chorus from another – it made for a lively contrast to Berlioz in Prom 37.

More akin to a pop concert, the singers lined the front – men in black, women in white or silver, each with a microphone for the Radio 3 relay – with the instrumental forces arrayed behind them. Each of the vocalists had at least one aria – bass Alex Ashworth and alto Kate Symonds-Joy patiently waiting until Cantata 149, which also featured Inga Maria Klaucke’s mellow bassoon. Earlier flautist Eva Caballero had assumed a similar obbligato position, front of stage, and the three oboes were in mellifluous use throughout.

The single survivor from Cantata 50 was like a built-in encore – fulfilling a climactic place it had also done at a 1950 Prom marking the bicentenary of the composer’s death. Here the singers split themselves into two choirs, Ashworth leading them in the contrapuntal complexities, with Bach matching the vocal lines by pitching trumpets, strings and reed instruments against each other in similar vein. It was an exhilarating end to a well-constructed seventy minutes of pure Bach magic. For the curtain calls, all the musicians lined up at the front of the stage. Bach rocks!

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