Bach Week Festival wraps up with vital and varied program

Mon May 06, 2013 at 9:43 am

By Gerald Fisher

Richard Webster conducted the final concert of the Bach Week Festival Sunday at North Park College.

Sunday afternoon marked the finale of the Bach Week Festival’s 40th anniversary season and its first foray out of Evanston to a new venue.

North Park University’s 600-seat Anderson Chapel, located around Foster and Kedzie, turns out to be a perfect fit for the kind of multidimensional program the festival champions. Sunday’s variegated and efficiently-paced program included performances by solo cello, solo organ and small orchestra  and culminated in the full choral and instrumental layout of the Magnificat, all of which sounded just fine in the space.

There was a palpable excitement in the capacity audience as the afternoon began and it was fully met by the energetic performances that followed. For openers, the 57-rank Magnuson organ was unleashed on the Toccata and Fugue in F Major BWV 540, played fluently by Margaret Martin, the North Park University organist. The piece has plenty of opportunities for showing off the robustness and articulation of the instrument as well as the lightly reverberant sound of the room. The music moved swiftly and logically from deep pedal tones through chordal and linear sections all of which which came to a head in a full-blooded bravura finale.

Chicago Symphony Orchestra cellist Katinka Kleijn is known for her mastery of many styles, but she can negotiate the core classics with sensitivity and understanding.  After a broad and dynamic Prelude she traversed the various dance themes of the third Solo Cello Suite, BWV 1009, with attention to detail and rhythmic solidity. The sound of her instrument carried impressively throughout the performance space.

A brisk and cleanly played Brandenburg Concert No. 2 featured the virtuoso trumpet of CSO principal Christopher Martin and a chamber-sized cohort of instrumentalists including notably fine solo work by flutist John Thorne and oboist Judith Kulb. The speedy pace was invigorating but made for a few flubs, which, however, didn’t seriously detract from the overall impact.

After the intermission longtime festival music director Richard Webster was joined by the full Bach Week Festival Orchestra and Chorus, the North Park University Chamber Singers and vocal soloists for a well-integrated and rousing performance of the Magnificat (in its second, D Major, incarnation from 1733).

The first version was composed a decade earlier, in E-flat Major, and included four traditional hymns inserted into the score. For this performance these hymns were plucked out of the older work and reintroduced into the newer one.  Although it seemed like an interesting idea, the hymns felt out of place and were not that interesting musically. Bach probably had his reasons for not including them and anyway it is hard to improve on perfection.

The rest of the piece was given a sterling performance with full timpani and an on-stage chamber organ adding to the musical fabric, and some fine solo turns. Memorable were the oboe contribution to the Quia respexit soprano aria and some beautiful singing in the Esurientes by mezzo-soprano Nina Heebink, the performance rounded off with a glorious coda.

The Bach Week Festival is apparently forging a relationship with North Park University and their visit to Anderson Chapel may occur annually. If so, that would be good news for North Side music lovers.

Posted in Performances

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