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NC Bach Festival Marks 30 Years with Gala Program

by Sarah N. Eichvalds*

November 1, 2009, Raleigh, NC: The Raleigh Moravian Church once again hosted the North Carolina Bach Festival, this time for a concert marking the thirtieth anniversary of the promotion of Baroque music with this concert series. The NCBF began with a large-scale production of the St. John Passion by the NC Master Chorale (then called the Raleigh Oratorio Society) and, if this November’s program was any indication, a spectacular job has been done keeping this festival alive.

The program featured a small string ensemble, two harpsichords, and one soprano, Florence Peacock. The program opened with "Gottes Engel weichen nie" from the Cantata No. 140 (Man singet mit Freuden vom Sieg) by — wouldn’t you guess it? — J.S. Bach. The small string ensemble (John Pruett and Ariadna Illika, violins, Joey O’Donnell, viola, Brian Howard, violoncello, and Robbie Link, bass) and Beverly Biggs, harpsichord, accompanied Peacock, who also helped make the program possible; she is not only an avid supporter of music and the arts but also an incredibly engaging and artistic singer. Once the performers and audience alike became accustomed to the large and somewhat swallowing space of the church, no one could deny the technical skill and artistic talent emanating from the singer and the accompanying instrumentalists. Peacock came in perfectly with her sweeping soprano voice. From the very first note, it was obvious that we were in the presence of professionals and that the program would be a spectacular tribute to Bach.

The next piece was the Sonata No. 4 in C Minor, S.1019, for violin and harpsichord, by Bach. The violin and harpsichord intertwined and supported each other in a dazzling show. One of the movements was almost entirely a harpsichord solo, showing off Elaine Funaro’s nimble finger work. Next was "Quia respexit" from the wonderful Magnificat, S.243, once again featuring Peacock and the string ensemble, and after a short intermission, she continued with the florid aria "Höchster, mache deine Güte" from Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen!, S.51, one of the best-known cantatas. No one could turn eyes or ears away, so truly engaging was she as she sang this music from memory, freeing herself from the printed page.

Immediately following was the Concerto in C minor for two harpsichords, S.1060, featuring soloists Beverly Biggs and Elaine Funaro and strings. (The work also exists in a version for violin and oboe.) The melody spun elegantly between the ensemble and the harpsichords and between the harpsichords themselves — an impressive feat that displayed just how strong the soloists and ensemble were.

The program closed with "Schlafe, mein Liebster" (from Laßt uns sorgen, laßt uns wachen, S.213 — not to be confused with the aria of the same title from the Christmas Oratorio, S.248). This beautiful and sensual number was enjoyed by all.

The audience, which was clearly full of confirmed Bach lovers, greatly enjoyed the anniversary program, as did this listener.

*We are pleased to welcome Meredith student Sarah N. Eichvalds to the pages of CVNC. With this review, she joins us as one of our 2009-10 interns.

   
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