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The Bach Project Celebrates the Master


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With Black Friday and Small Business Saturday over, the Bach Project on Sunday found folks still streaming into All Saints’ Episcopal Church well past the four o’clock start time. After words of welcome, director/organist Andrew Sheranian readied us for congregational singing—each of us had a program insert containing a chorale tune along with its text in German.

Sheranian next made his way to the organ loft. One light, bright manual played off against one less enough so, both against a puffy pedal. It was a Bach chorale prelude Allein Gott in der Hoh’ sei Ehr (To God on high alone be the glory) illuminating the nave-full of post-Thanksgiving folk.

The rehearsed “congregation” ardently responded singing the revered Protestant chorale tune.

Ashmont Hill Chamber Music artistic director Mary Beth Alger told us that this was the second year her organization has teamed up with Sheranian’s Ashmont church.  Also, we learned that such collaboration will take place in May, on Mother’s Day, in fact. Sheranian continued his warm invitation, “Bring your mother to hear Bach,” drawing quiet, friendly laughter.

In a musical gesture to the story of Jacob’s wrestling with the angel, Bach composed Ich lass dich nicht, du segnest mich denn (I will not leave you until you bless me). The 17-member Ashmont Boys Choir helped transport a much later post-Puritan crowd to Leipzig and Bach’s St. Thomas Church. On our right the Boys Choir would “wrestle” antiphonally with other choristers to our left. How many there were left yearning for the century’s past tradition?  Nina Faia Mutlu, Margaret Lias, Corey Dalton Hart, and Dana Whiteside made up the fine solo quartet of vocalists.

Violin Concerto in G Minor BWV 548 featured Julia McKenzie. Less robust, considering its intended use at a pub gathering, it dispensed a special sweetness and an obvious devoutness—a hats off to Bach possibly. The small ensemble of some of Boston’s more experienced Baroque period players conducted by Sheranian would summon more and more Baroque times and tastes. The Adagio that begins almost like the famous Air on the G String from Bach’s Suite No. 3 breathed as naturally as singing. And McKenzie nuanced and pondered in the most engaging of vocal-violin ways. One wished the plucked strings could have been more pronounced.

Back to the loft with Sheranian injecting an action feel to one of Bach’s most easily identifiable fugues, “The Wedge.” A bit faster than often taken, this fugue took on a straight-ahead never turning back attitude that brought the master German composer, organist, church and court musician back to mind—having us forget shopping.

That all this music-making sheltered us from the other goings-on at this time truly made a big difference. Equally so, did the throng of attendees who avidly partook of these musical offerings.  

Just as welcome were all the selections in this uninterrupted outpouring of musical gifts. After the majestic closing of the Fugue in E Minor, chorus and orchestra broke out in Mass in A Major  BWV 234. Its compactness, its complexity, its shifting speeds kept All Saints Church’s acoustical holds on the spiritual. Soprano Janet Stone joined the quartet members.

Rounded Baroque flutes, tempered strings, harpsichord, organ, and theorbo joined soloists Ulysses Thomas, soprano Elise Groves, and mezzo Carrie Cheron. Amidst an open and intent “congregation” it was just right to celebrate Thanksgiving.

David Patterson, Professor of Music and former Chairman of the Performing Arts Department at UMass Boston, was recipient of a Fulbright Scholar Award and the Chancellor’s Distinction in Teaching Award. He studied with Nadia Boulanger and Olivier Messiaen in Paris and holds a PhD from Harvard University.  He is the author of 20 Little Piano Pieces from Around the World (G. Schirmer).

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