For some Bach is an acquired taste. For others he is a composer who satisfies on every level, as Ex Cathedra demonstrated so stunningly in the opening concert of last weekend’s Bach mini-festival.
Jeffrey Skidmore chose to present four motets in a modest way, with just ten singers and four continuo players.
The resulting performances, marked throughout by elegant phrasing, superbly clear contrapuntal lines and sensitively proportioned dynamics (consonants not articulated too explosively, sopranos’ top notes deftly touched) gave these emotionally charged, life-affirming works an extra dimension of personal communication.
Jesu, meine Freude and Komm, Jesu, komm, with their instances of dramatic word-painting, in particular benefited from the expressive potential of Skidmore’s chamber-music approach; and even the bouncy rhythms and heady melismata of Lobet den Herrn and Singet dem Herrn had an intimacy that larger forces would have found difficult to achieve.
Framed by these devotional works (virtually everything Bach composed was ‘‘to the glory of God’’) were two Cello Suites, played by Andrew Skidmore. Often quite ruminative, and displaying no overt glitz – although there are no shortcomings in this player’s technique – these understated and somewhat contemplative readings provided a wonderful complement to the motets.
Skidmore’s cantabile suggested a soulful humanity in the slow movements, even a sense of questing improvisation, while in the Courantes and Gigues his nimble fingering and bowing displayed a quietly exhilarating lightness of touch that remained firmly within the boundaries of Baroque style and conventions.