Tue, 19 Dec 2000

Bach's celebrated choral works to be performed in Jakarta

By Y. Bintang Prakarsa

JAKARTA (JP): Closing the year of Bach's anniversary, the Jakarta Oratorio Society (Stephen Tong, conductor) and Eliatha Choir (Billy Kristanto, conductor), accompanied by the augmented Capella Amadeus string orchestra (Grace Sudargo, director), will join the celebration on Dec. 19 at Graha Gepembri in Kelapa Gading Permai, North Jakarta.

The combined forces will perform selections from the composer's celebrated choral works, a very welcome gesture that will enhance on previous anniversary concerts dealing only with his instrumental works.

The pieces to be heard are mainly first choruses of the cantata Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, Magnificat, Christmas Oratorio, and St. Matthew's Passion. All of them are later works, composed for use at St. Thomas's and St. Nicholas's, as he was then the music director of these two Leipzig churches. Thus, they were intimately connected with the liturgical life of the Lutheran church. In each composition, the music enhances the chosen text for the assigned Sunday or festivity, giving the Biblical text and its liturgical context a musical realization.

Most of the choruses, except the opening chorus of the Passion, are related more or less to the Christmas season. The cantata Wachet auf was intended to mark the end of the liturgical year, an occasion that preceded the Advent and Christmas seasons. The work has a mood of joyfulness and expectation, as the soul awaits the coming of Christ. The first chorus elaborates the first stanza of an old hymn (1599) by Philipp Nicolai that paraphrases the Gospel parable about five wise girls (understood as the Christian soul) that expect the coming bridegroom (Christ) to join him in the wedding feast. Suggesting the joy and excitement of the girls are the dotted rhythm and rising syncopated melodies of the orchestral accompaniment.

The Magnificat is now Bach's most famous Latin work after the Mass in B minor. Indeed, the composer himself might have thought of it as one of his best, because he revised it later as a part of his effort to establish definitive versions of his finest compositions.

Magnificat is the Latin translation of the so-called Marian hymn in the Gospel of Luke, traditionally sung during Vespers or evening prayers. Earlier Bach's Magnificat was thought of as a special composition for Christmas Vespers, but now it is proposed that he might have just composed and used it for any (presumably festive) Vespers.

Whatever the case, the lyrics speak of the wonder of God's regard for His lowly servant and God's justice toward humanity. The work is a miniature whose full duration does not exceed half an hour, but Bach gave the lyrics an appropriate grandeur by writing them for five voices (two sopranos, alto, tenor, and bass) and a full orchestra. The resplendent choruses and meditative solos vividly paint Mary's vision of the coming rule of God's justice brought by Christ whom she bears in her womb. Accompanied by full orchestra with trumpets and timpani and packed with running melismas, the first chorus recalls the confident opening phrase of the hymn, "My soul praises the Lord".

Christmas Oratorio is actually a set of six separate cantatas that adorned the six services from Christmas (Dec. 25) to Epiphany (Jan. 6). The first chorus that will be sung at the concert belongs to the first cantata for Christmas proper, premiered in 1734. The text, proclaiming the "deeds of the Almighty", is also cast in jubilant, lilting triple time as the first Magnificat chorus, with the unusual opening by timpani alone. The reason is that it was a recycled product coming from music written for the birthday of Maria Josepha, Electress of Saxony and Queen of Poland the year before, and the first phrase of the original words mention the sounding of drums. Nevertheless, as in other recycled music of Bach's, the new sacred words fit the music so well that one cannot detect its secular associations if not told beforehand.

As a variety, Capella Amadeus will also play some purely instrumental pieces. The first is the ever-popular, mellifluous Air from one of the two Orchestral Suites in D major, nicknamed (not by Bach, of course) the "Air on G String." The second is no less popular for Baroque lovers, the Brandenburg Concerto no. 5, whose first movement features the most impressive harpsichord cadenza ever written in the Baroque era, no doubt designed by Bach to impress the audience. For the concert, Billy Kristanto, the only harpsichordist in Indonesia, will replace Bach at the harpsichord. For more information, contact Lia or Ice at 3810912.