Ever wondered what Bach got up to outside church life in Leipzig? Part of the answer was on show in this final Festival concert by the Dunedin Consort, featuring two secular cantatas written in response to Bach’s growing involvement in Leipzig’s wider cultural life.
Dunedin Consort & John Butt, Queen’s Hall, Edinburgh * * * *
In “Geschwinde, ihr wirbelnden Winde” and “Zerreisset, zersprenget, zertrümmert die Gruft” – the first a mean-spirited singing contest between Phoebus and Pan, the other an ironic tale of Aeolus running amok with his power over the weather – we hear Bach with a sense of abandon.
The latter was the more persuasive, not just for its uncommonly extravagant orchestration – trumpets, horns and timps crowning the wind and strings with resplendent euphoria – but also the compositional grit that gives rugged theatrical edge to otherwise standard cantata numbers, and which the Dunedin singers engagingly characterised.
The opening cantata mostly worked, its fast-flowing sequence of solo numbers amusingly animated by basses Matthew Brook (a self-satisfied Pan) and Dominic Barberi (a lugubrious Phoebus), under John Butt’s ringmaster direction. Fine singing too from Jess Dandy, Nicholas Mulroy and Sophie Junker. But with such a silly plot, and the odd nervous moment, I’m not convinced Bach responded with complete consistency.