Steinitz Bach Players 50th

London Bach Society’s Bachfest 2018
Steinitz Bach Players, Rodolfo Richter
St John’s, Smith Square, 6 November 2918

For the fourth and final day of their 2018 Bachfest, the London Bach Society (LBS) celebrated the 50th anniversary of their own orchestra, the Steinitz Bach Players, with this St John’s, Smith Square concert. The orchestra was founded, along with the London Bach Society, by Paul Steinitz (1909-88), one of the pioneers of the British Bach revival. Made up of leading freelance period instrumentalists, the orchestra performs under different directors during the annual Bachfest. On this occasion, they performed without a conductor, but with direction from the violin by Rodolfo Richter, a practice that I am sure Bach himself would have approved of.  

The concert opened and closed with contrasting Bach cantatas, balanced by two of Bach’s best known instrumental works, the ‘Double Violin’ concert and the first Brandenburg Concerto. The first cantata was O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort (BWV 60), composed in 1723 during Bach’s first year in Leipzig. It is an unusual piece in the form of a dialogue between personifications of Fear and Hope (Furcht and Hoffnung), sung by an alto and tenor (on this occasion Anna Harvey and Nick Pritchard, both past prize winners of the LBS Bach Singers Prize) with a bass Vox Christi (Benjamin Bevan) giving additional reassurance to Fear just before the concluding chorale. The opening movement starts in the form of a superb chorale fantasia. The alto sings the chorale melody, supported by a solo horn, above a tremulo string accompaniment and two intertwining oboes d’amore. After a while, Hope intervenes, repeating the words Lord I await your salvation in florid melodic style. The following duet recitative includes a wonderfully chromatic phrase from Fear on the words tortures these limbs, while Hope finishes with a cadenza-like flourish. The final chorale has some wonderful harmonies.

Rodolfo Richter and Jane Gordon then gave an excellent performance of the ‘Double Violin’ Concerto, their playing of the central Largo being exceptionally sensitive. The final movement included a delightful little moment of repose amidst the vivacious and sprightly tumbling of notes. Similar sensitive playing came in the Brandenburg Concert that opened the second half. Horn players Ursula Paludan Monberg and Daniel de Souza made significant contributions – in the opening movement, it almost sounds as though a hunting party had burst in upon a princely soirée as they interrupted the string players with fanfares and percussive passages. I particularly liked their interpretation of the little upward-sliding ‘whoop’ that Bach indicates in the score. They also excelled in the multi-section fourth movement with its repeated Menuet.

The concluding cantata (BWV 151) was in stark contrast to the opening O Ewigkeit, du Donnerwort. It was written for the Christmas period in Leipzig in 1725, and reflects the feeling of joy. Soprano Rowan Pierce opened with the lovely extended aria Sußer Trost, mein Jesus kömmt, with Rachel Beckett providing the filigree accompaniment on flute. Anna Harvey’s central aria had an angular string accompaniment over detached bass notes.

This was a most impressive concert that reflected well on the celebratory occasion. It was refreshing to have an orchestra directed by the principal violinist, in this case Rodolfo Richter, whose interpretations were consistently sensitive and musical. The playing and singing was excellent from all, but particular mention should go to Pawel Siwczak and Alex Jellici for their continuo contributions on organ/harpsichord and cello.