Essential Bach – The Irish Baroque Orchestra at University Church, St Stephen’s Green
In this midst of the busy streets of Dublin’s low-rise, Georgian city centre, a considerable host make their way to the enigmatic Newman’s University Church for the Irish Baroque Orchestra‘s first night of their latest concert series. Although they are a resident ensemble of the National Concert Hall just around the corner, their preferred concert venue has become an intrinsic part of the concert experience that the IBO provide. On a night where snow and brittle winds whip the church exterior, the elaborate interior of marble, rounded arches and Raphael tapestries are more than just a backdrop to the musical performance; they are part of a uniquely immersive performance by a world-class period ensemble, which all Dublin music fans, regardless of taste, should experience.
Given that the orchestra specialises in music from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the repertoire invariably predates the church building. Tonight’s programme (the first in a three-night series) is no exception, celebrating the music of the Bach family, with works by Johann Sebastian Bach and two of his more prolific sons, Wilhelm Friedemann and Carl Philipp Emanuel. The concert begins with a short address by leader and artistic director Monica Huggett, who leads a 13-piece orchestra with energy and charisma. Right from the opening chords of J.S. Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major, the superior blend of the ensemble is practically perfect. This suite, closely modeled on the brand of dance suites composed by Lully, provides much opportunity for the pushing and pulling of the tempo at phrase endings, which the orchestra indulge frequently in, given the effortless unity of the group.
W.F. Bach’s Duet for 2 Violas No. 2 in G major falls in the centre of the three pieces of tonight’s concert, and is an intriguing addition to the programme. Performed by Marja Gaynor and Emilia Benjamin, the texture created by the two lines is simultaneously contrapuntal and harmonically driven (that is to say, each line is elegantly written against the other, while the harmony changes perceptibly with each new bar). Small intonation slips are noticeable in the first half of the piece, but once these settle, the performance is emphatic, with a particularly impressive Presto rounding off the work.
The final item of this evening’s hour long concert is C.P.E. Bach’s Flute Concerto in D Minor. Flautist Lisa Beznosiuk plays the Baroque flute with great phrasing and technical proficiency, as the performers lilt through the first two movements. The programming of a gentle flute concerto as the final piece in the concert comes into question, but within seconds of the final movement starting up, the reasoning is obvious. The movement is full of excitement and dynamism, all of which is emphasised in the brilliant performances of the players. This is the advent of Storm und Drang, of music being primarily dramatic in nature, and watching the Irish Baroque Orchestra playing, it’s clear that boy, do they love this one!
It must be reiterated to music-lovers of any sort; if you have not experienced a concert of this nature before, it is a must-do! It may not turn out to be your cup of tea, but with a performing group of such proficiency as the Irish Baroque Orchestra, in a venue as fittingly beautiful as the University Church, you are guaranteed a very special experience.
Johann Sebastian Bach – Orchestral Suite No. 1 in C major BWV 1066
Wilhelm Friedemann Bach – Duet for 2 Violas No. 2 in G major F. 61
Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach – Flute Concerto in D minor W. 22