Advent was launched in fine style by The English Concert and Harry Bicket with Johann Sebastian Bach’s three surviving Cantatas for this time of year. The violinists stood throughout, an imposing physical presence and strikingly powerful in the opening work, and the chorus was composed of four outstanding voices, the rich bass of Ashley Riches underpinning the texture with expressive grace as the singers welcomed Jesus into the World, and the heartfelt lyrics were conveyed in beautifully modulated German. The intimacy of personal faith was intensified by the soprano aria, flawlessly given by Dorothee Mields, and rounded off with an ecstatic expression of devotion to the Saviour. Cantata 62 follows the Lutheran chorale more closely in text and structure and the mood is very different, establishing the imagery of struggle and strife. Nick Pritchard and Riches shone with exemplary runs and trills and the duet for higher voices, Mields and James Hall, was delicate and joyful.
Philipp Heinrich Erlebach was regarded as one of the most important German composers and Kapellmeisters in the generation before Bach. Sadly the majority of his works were lost in a fire in 1735, a great loss judging by the impact of his G-minor Ouverture, eight short movements dancing with vivacity in French style.
The final Cantata, BWV36, was a complete show-stopper. Mields’s trajectory was definitely heavenwards, she and Riches in exquisite musical conversation with oboes and bassoon as the celebratory journey to the stars was described in musical imagery by the poet in parallel with plangent love lyrics, a rousing end with a joyful hymn of praise. Bicket and The English Concert had illuminated Bach’s timeless music in inimitable fashion.