Combining some of Bach's most popular music with a few lesser-known pieces, the Bach Ensemble of Edinburgh provided a hint at the composer's stylistic breadth by performing a refreshing range of his cantatas and concertos.
The recital was anchored by two of Bach's famous concertos. Richard Beauchamp gave a blistering rendition of the Keyboard Concerto No. 1 on piano. Although the piece would have originally been played on a harpsichord, Beauchamp's sensitive style ensured that the small string ensemble accompanying him was never overwhelmed by his Steinway's soniferous power. Similarly, the instrumentalists blended well for the second concerto of the evening, the fourth of Bach’s perennially popular Brandenburg Concertos. The final movement, especially, was an engaging blend of fiery violin passage-work and contrapuntal sophistication.
A change of pace was provided by the selection of arias taken from Bach's cantatas. It is ironic that Bach made his living from writing weekly cantatas for the Thomaskircke in Leipzig, and yet today these hugely impressive works are probably among the composer's most enigmatic. They really don't deserve to be, especially if they're all sung with the verve on display here. Libby Crabtree sang splendidly, imbuing the opening wedding hymn 'Weichet, nur, betrubte Schatten' ('Give way now, melancholy shadows') with great gentleness.
'Ich Habe Genug' ('I have enough') describes Simeon's desperate wish to escape the trials of his worldly existence and live peacefully with God in heaven. Ivor Klayman gave a suitably austere performance of the cantata, solemnly emphasising each word of the original German text to great effect. The fact that such dark music could coexist so peaceably with the Baroque enthusiasm of the two concertos is credit to both Bach's inventiveness as a composer and to the skill and sensitivity of the performers on the night.