The pews of Home Moravian Church in Old Salem were packed with eager music lovers for historically informed performances of major works by Johann Sebastian Bach. This was the fourth concert in the Music@Home series, a joint presentation of the church and the UNC School of the Arts and its School of Music. Members of the Magnolia Baroque Ensemble played period instruments or reproductions ranging from valveless trumpets to baroque oboes and flutes, strings including a violone (instead of a doublebass), bassoon, timpani, harpsichord, and chamber organ. Vocal soloists were drawn from within the well-prepared UNCSA Cantata Singers.

Bach’s cantatas cry out for wider exploration by regional performing groups. I had hoped for the complete Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (“Now come, Savior of the heathens”), S.62, but instead the concert began with just the opening chorus. The Cantata Singers delivered the text with great clarity and excellent ensemble and balance. They and the orchestra were stylishly conducted by Nathan Zullinger. Within the orchestra, the pair of oboes, played by Sarah Heubst and Alison Lowell, was outstanding.

A rousing performance of Orchestral Suite III in D, S.1068, came next, led by concertmaster Christof Richter. The martial air of the opening Overture was delightful, with clarion precision of the three natural trumpet players – Doug Wilson, Pat Dougherty, and Katie Daugherty – soaring above Justin McConchie’s timpani underpinning. The strings were superb in the ever-popular Air on the G String. The phrasing and tempo were ideal, as was the larger ensemble in the two French dance movements that followed – Gavotte I/II and Bourrée. The brass and percussion joined in the spirited concluding Gigue.

This concert series was presented to the public for free, but at the beginning of intermission, plates are passed around for a free-will donation to help defray expenses.

The Magnificat in D, S.243 (1733), is a revision of Bach’s earlier version in E-flat, S.243a (1723), shorn of Christmas texts and transposed, perhaps for the ease of the brass, and with flutes replacing recorders. The text is drawn from Luke 1:46-55. At this period, Latin was still used by German Protestants for higher liturgical occasions. The setting is the Virgin Mary’s praise to God when visited by her cousin Elisabeth. It contains twelve numbers consisting of choruses, solo arias, a duet, and a trio. The crack UNCSA Cantata Singers benefit from skilled vocal training so all solo parts were taken by nine members of the choir; with strongly supported voices and excellent diction, all more than justified their selection.

The festive opening chorus was aptly rousing, with the hearty vocal lines underpinned by the splendid brass and percussion as heard in the Third Suite. The enthusiastic Aria (No. 2) was beautifully sung by soprano Peyton Marion. The darker, slower second Aria (No. 3) was stylishly phrased by soprano Devann Boyd and nicely accompanied by a pair of oboes. There was a marvelous coup de théâtre as the aria had hardly ended when the fff chorus “Omnes generations” (“By all generations”) (No. 4) broke in like an unstoppable wave. This was magnificent and all the more effective with the smaller forces in this intimate space. Bass Eric Powell’s deep, rich, and sepulchral voice was terrific in his Aria (No. 5) as low strings richly supported him. Mezzo-soprano Sara Roberts and tenor David Maize carefully scaled down and closely matched their voices for the intimate and pastoral-like Duet (No. 6).

Trills abounded in the trumpets when the joined for the vigorous Chorus .“Fecit potentiam” (No. 7) Tenor Kevin Periman delivered his Aria (No. 8) with aplomb. Counter-tenor Taylor Mason Boone revealed a very well-formed, finished voice in the marvelous Aria (No. 9) with its wonderfully light accompaniment of flutes and pp pizzicato low strings. The gentle Trio (No. 10) was skillfully sung by sopranos Samantha Richardson and Alexandra Church and mezzo-soprano Sara Roberts with subtle string support. The canon-like entrances of each section of the choir in the penultimate Chorus (No. 11) were superb, as was the spirited fianl Chorus, “Gloria Patri” (No. 12) with the martial effect drawn from the opening of piece.

I look forward to hearing some of the choir’s soloists in future UNCSA productions, and I never miss any chance to hear the superb Magnolia Baroque Ensemble.

The Music@Home series continues in January and April. See our calendar in due course for details.

Note: Spelling of several names corrected 12/15.