As part of Christ Church Episcopal‘s Sacred Music on the Square Concert Series, the church’s resident vocal ensemble Schola Cantorum was joined by members of the North Carolina Baroque Orchestra for an evening of slightly smaller-scale, intimate performances of Bach’s music. Titled “The Faces of Bach: Court Composer and Church Musician,” the concert contained both sacred and secular works – two of the many Bach cantatas, with the Brandenburg Concerto No. 6 in between. Led by organist and choirmaster David Jernigan, the eight members performed the complex textures of Bach’s cantatas with strength and contextual accuracy. The featured members of the NC Baroque Orchestra, specifically titled the NC Baroque Chamber Players and including the Orchestra’s founders Frances Blaker and Barbara Blaker Krumdiek, completed the period-specific performance. Together, the two groups created a very seamless sound in the sanctuary of Christ Church.

The Chamber Players set the Baroque mood with a performance of Sinfonia á Seven by composer Franz Tunder. This was a good introduction to the lesser-seen Baroque instruments used in this concert – specifically, recorders and viola da gamba, which looks similarly to the modern cello but is bowed differently and can have between 5-7 strings instead of four. The Schola Cantorum singers joined to perform the first cantata, Actus Tragicus (BWV 106). This cantata began with a Sonatina movement performed by only instrumentalists. Here, two recorders shone with the most prominent melody, supported by emerging countermelodies. Throughout this rich musical texture, the dynamic control of the players became evident as they played many crisp dynamic changes from forte to piano and back again.

The rest of the first cantata contained a variety of settings – chorus texture (Coro) was intertwined with solo representatives from each voice part throughout. In the chorale second movement “Gottes Zeit is die allerbeste Zeit” (“God’s time is the very best time”), a fugal texture was not only created by the singers, but also paired by the instruments. This type of texture made the voices and instruments equal and interchangeable, and the blending of the two was seamless. In contrast, when a solo voice was featured, it cut through the hall very effectively, especially when paired with only continuo and bass.

The orchestra’s performance of the sixth Brandenburg Concerto was quite delightful; the nature of this work is such that the listener can sit back and let the music wash over. Like all Baroque music, there were no apparent surprises, but the steadily moving and complex lines, especially when played by very sensitive players, were very engaging to listen to. This was also true of Bach’s cantata Aus der Tiefen (BWV 131), where intertwining melodic lines and precise dynamic and tempo shifts contributed to a memorable performance. In general, the sound of the choral singers was remarkably strong for only eight voices, and each soloist in turn performed with visible sincerity according to the meaning of the text. All of these factors contributed to a memorable performance of a genre of music that perhaps does not get performed enough.