Classical review: JS Bach - Coffee & Enlightenment

Greyfriar's Kirk, Edinburgh. Picture: JP

Greyfriar's Kirk, Edinburgh. Picture: JP

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WHAT exactly was this event all about?

JS Bach: Coffee & Enlightenment

Greyfriars Kirk, Edinburgh

***

The premise set out by John Butt seemed sound and invigorating – a couple of hours of early evening entertainment featuring performances of Bach by the excellent vocal and period instrument band, the Dunedin Consort, interspersed with open audience discussion, itself fuelled by a kind of “thought for the day” by the eminent musical sociologist Simon Frith.

It was supposed to recreate the spirit of debate generated within the famous 18th century coffee house concerts where Bach and his secular music featured prominently. So to hold it in a church, where the ambience didn’t quite seem right, where the temptation to misbehave is diminished, and where the spoken voice battled against the echoing acoustic and unpredictable PA system, just seemed wrong.

Not that it stopped those members of the audience who could hear voicing their responses to Butt’s erudite, instinctive compering and Frith’s star-gazing thoughts on paradoxical issues of the sacred and secular, the individual and the collective.

And in any case, the Dunedin play Bach like a dream. Their svelte performances of the Orchestral Suite No 3, with its gold-burnished topping of three trumpets and the lyrical perfection of its famous Air (on a G string), followed by two early Weimar cantatas – the wholesomely diminutive O heilges Geist (No 165) and the more expansive, exultant Der Himmel lacht! (No 31) – were value for money in their own right.

Butt is on to something, but the context and venue need to be rethought.

Seen on 04.02.15

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