Bach und die Romantik – Bach and the Age of Romanticism
14 - 23 May 2004

My day at Bachfest: 16 May 2004

This is the first Sunday of the Bachfest 2004. There were tough choices: church services from 9:30 in both Nikolaikirche and Thomaskirche, and the concert tour to Halle from 11:00. I went for the latter, then to an early evening concert in Nikolaikirche at 17:00, followed by an evening concert in Altrathaus at 20:00.

The coach (with a well-informed guide about the history of Halle) departed the Thomaskirche at 11 am, and in less than an hour we arrived Halle. Our destination was Franckesche Stifungen where we had opportunities to see the museum of arts and natural history, coffee/cake and a concert. There was one hour of free time, and so I strolled around the town centre and visited the Liebfrauen Kirche (or Marktkirche Unser Lieben Frauen) where Handel was baptised, and W.F. Bach once worked as organist. The church was under major restoration, and it was so unfortunate that I could not see inside the building. (The next to the church was Marienbibliothek, one of the oldest church libraries in Germany, which I shall have to come back on another occasion.)

View of Halle from Franckesche Stifungen

Liebfrauen Kirche

The concert was given at the hall inside Franckesche Stifungen by Andreas Hartmann (modern violin) and Albrecht Hartmann (modern Steinway grand piano).

No.16: Concert Tour to Halle, 11:00-16:00


Führung und Konzert in den Franckeschen Stiftungen

G. F. Handel: Sonate F-Dur, HWV 370
J. S. Bach: Overture, aus Partita D-Dur, BWV 828
J. S. Bach: Sonate G-Dur, BWV 1019 (Allegro – Adagio – Allegro)
A. Dvořák: Romantische Stücke, op. 75, B 150
A. Dvořák: Mazurek e-Moll, op. 49, B 89

Andreas Hartmann (Violine), Albrecht Hartmann (Klavier)

Hartmann's virtuoso performance
  Handel was performed with conviction and verve. Each phrase was characterised intelligently, which was furnished with appropriate ornaments. There was a firm sense of direction and structure, which was well supported by the accompanist who brought out the continuo line, providing a firm harmonic foundation. To my taste, I wished each phrases to have been ended with a little more care, allowing me to breathe: not necessarily every phrase, but at least some more important cadences could have been treated in this way.

The overture from Bach’s Partita in D major was secure and assuring performance. The Sonata was again very secure and delightfully executed.

Two Dvořák pieces were, however, the main pieces in today’s recital. What a powerful performance it was! The range of colours, and the virtuosic manners in which poise and gushing energy were well controlled. Hartmann senior constantly displayed his excellent double-stopping techniques, while Hartmann junior provided reliable accompaniment throughout. The only thing he need perhaps is to be more imaginative, padding colours and delicacy, and shaping each phrase more boldly.

A person attending this Bachfest 2004, I could not help but to think that the event was hijacked by the true 19th century programme performed with our own aesthetic values and instruments, far removed unfortunately from the theme of ‘Bach und die Romantik’.

No.18: Choir and Orchestra, Nikolaikirche, 17:00

My photo taken from where I sat

Leipzig was still bright outside. Going through a dark entrance hall of the Nikolaikirche, we were greeted by a brightly-lit, beautifully decorated acoustic space where we were expecting to hear two Easter pieces by the father and his second son. TV crews from NHK were making final adjustments to their cameras and lightings, and there was a high degree of expectation from Sigiswald Kuiken and La Petite Bande to perform magic.


J.S. Bach: Kantate „Lobet Gott in seinen Reichen“, BWV 11
C.P.E. Bach: Oratorium „Die Auferstehung und Himmelfahrt Jesu“, Wq 240

Sophie Karthäuser (Sopran), Patrizia Hardt (Alt), Christophe Einhorn (Tenor), Christoph Genz (Tenor), Jan Van der Crabben (Bass-Bariton), Stephan Genz (Bariton)

Ex Tempore, La Petite Bande
Leitung: Sigiswald Kuijken

Unexpectedly, BWV 11 was performed with a one-to-a-part setting (i.e. the choir part was sung by four soloists). Even though they were placed in front of the orchestra, it was doubtful whether they would balance out with a fairly large chamber orchestra, let alone the projection of their voice as they were to perform from the floor level of the Nikolaikirche at the centre of the church, just from the edge of the chancel. My worry grew stronger as a pre-concert announcement without using microphone + amplifier was not audible at all.

As it happened, the performance was full of disappointments. At first, it sounded fresh and appetising, and the vocal ensemble was tight and well jelled together; but soon the weakness of string and continuo sections was exposed, which was further marred by the airy noise of trumpets with occasional slips. In the 4th movement (Alto aria), the string section seemed at war with the leader, Kuijken, whose articulations were not followed properly by the other players. In fact, the ensemble problems appeared everywhere as if the instrumentalists were not listening to each other. As for the choir, the balance was fine where I sat except that the soprano was not audible at all in two choral movements (nos. 6 and 9).

Wq 240 made a promising start; the choir (this time 22 singers placed at the back of the orchestra) gave a fresh impact, particularly since the force of the vocal section (with well-focused phrasing) was lacking in BWV 11.

However, it was not too long that we were presented with ensemble problems, even though this piece was conducted properly by Kuijken. In the choral movement (mvt.5), the entries on the upbeat were alarmingly untidy, for example.

As for the quality of solo singing, it was not at all disappointing: Karthäuser had a clear and pleasant voice and Stephen Ganz communicated well with his ensemble as well as to the audience. Still, the huge acoustic space caused some problems: Stephen Ganz had good penetrating tone at higher range, but his mid-low range was not sufficiently powerful so that the orchestra frequently overpowered, for example in the 4th movement (Bass aria). There was a similar problem with Karthäuser: her voice was projected well in forte range, but not when singing below mezzo forte range, at least where I was sitting, which was only 15 metres away, directly facing the singer on the same floor level. This became the major problem when she sang a da capo aria, 2nd time round, with elaborate ornamentation. Surely she should have considered how to embellish melodies under the acoustic environment she was singing: the most of her delicate ornaments appeared, sadly, as a line with many missing notes.

Photo by Gert Mothes

Overall, this was a disappointing performance, with full of technical, strategic, and interpretative problems.

No.19: Chamber Music in Altes Rathaus, 20:00

My photo taken from where I stood
  This was my first event this year at the Old Town Hall where the famous Bach portrait of 1746 was kept. Just like many other events at Bachfest, this concert was full, and there was no seat left when I arrived there a few minutes before the advertised time.


J.J. Fux, Serenada C major
J.S. Bach: Brandenburg Concerto no.5, BWV 1050
Muffat, Concerto grosso, no.12 in G major Ciaconna “Propitia Sydera”

J.S. Bach: Overture in B minor, BWV 1067
J.S. Bach: Overture in D major, BWV 1069

Armonico Tributo Austria
Leitung: Lorenz Duftschmid

The night opened with Fux’s Serenada with eighteen players. Despite the number, the ensemble was very tightly knit and colourful; individual players were freely and joyfully negotiating with their fellow players. Another non-Bach programme was Muffat, their speciality; fifteen players on the stage respond extremely well to frequent tempo changes.

The main attraction of the night was the Brandenburg Concerto no.5. Featuring three soloists placed in front, the ensemble of eleven performers tackled this famous work with freshness and charm. It was an engaging performance, particularly by the individual soloists with his or her own characters: harpsichordist with not-risk-taking, intelligent calmness, flautist with warm, well-shaped and articulated phrasing, a dazzling violinist with dynamic often exuberant leadership. The violinist had a slight tendency to overplay (esp. in the 2nd movement), but as a leader, she created such delightful atmosphere, the true essence of baroque ensemble that the audience seemed thoroughly satisfied.

The second half of their programme consisted of two contrasting Orchestral Suites. In the B-minor Suites, there were some untidy passagework in the continuo section; but their mastery display of a range of colours, effective poises, charming phrase shaping enchanted the audience. Of course, the reliability of the flautist was important. But more crucial was that every player contributed to the making of enjoyable ensemble, which was all clear to see.

Setting for the Brandenburg Concerto no.5

Setting for the Orchestral Suite in D major

The D-major Suites was presented with full force of their ensemble, placing four wood wind performers in front. As a larger ensemble, the definition as ensemble became slightly blurred, and there was the same old problem of messy upbeat figures; still, the performance was not a disappointment: even the most slow melodies were shaped very carefully, and rhythm was felt collectively by the community of performers, even though there was a slight tendency to lose it at the final cadence of every movement.

Overall, this was the most enjoyable concert of the day, and I wish this young group of musicians every success in their future career.

Yo Tomita

Return to Home Last updated on 26 July 2004