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Music Review

Masterworks Chorale enjoys quality family time with Bachs

D. Maccarferri/file

Steven Karidoyanes led the Masterworks Chorale in its all-Bach program at Sanders Theatre.

CAMBRIDGE - It was very much a family affair at Sanders Theatre on Friday when the Masterworks Chorale served up a hefty and satisfying repast of works (mostly motets) composed by three members of the Bach clan. Three of the five pieces came from the pen of the seemingly indefatigable and prolific patriarch Johann Sebastian, “Papa Bach.’’ Two of his sons, Johann Christoph Friedrich and Carl Philipp Emanuel, composed the other two.

In brief introductory remarks from the stage, conductor Steven Karidoyanes, music director of Masterworks Chorale, admitted that the performances were “historically informed but not historically accurate,’’ since they employed forces considerably larger than those Bach and his sons would have used. Joining a contingent of singers were six instrumentalists: a string quartet, plus string bass and organ. For the finale, J.S. Bach’s biggest motet, “Jesu, meine Freude’’ (“Jesus, My Joy’’), the considerable forces were augmented by the 50-plus young members of the Treble Chorus of New England.

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J.S. Bach’s brief hymn “Sanctus,’’ what Karidoyanes described as a “sonic sorbet’’ intended to whet the audience’s palate for the series of motets to follow, opened the program. Here, and throughout, the higher and lower female voices stood in two antiphonal groups lined up diagonally at either side of the stage, with the male voices behind the instruments. Since the women significantly outnumbered the men, this had the unfortunate effect of skewing the balance toward the treble.

Two motets filled out the first half. The first, by J.S. Bach, is perhaps the best known of his six, the relatively simple “Lobet den Herrn’’ (“Praise the Lord’’). Here the instrumentalists (violinists Sonja Larson and Edwad Wu, violist Rebecca Strauss, cellist Andrew Larson, bassist Rob Caplin, and organist Ian Watson) gave a good account of the independent accompaniment, although the voices often covered them. J.C.F. Bach’s considerably later “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme’’ (“Awake, the Voice Calls’’) showed a more operatic and dramatic style, influenced by Mozart.

After intermission came a set of four motets by C.P.E. Bach. A smaller ensemble of cello, bass, and organ accompanied these, on verse texts by two different German poets. Some obvious intonation problems, rather approximate German enunciation, and a lack of dynamic variety made for a less than ideal performance. But the atmosphere brightened when the earnest young voices of the Treble Chorus joined in on some sections of “Jesu, meine Freude,’’ illuminating its remarkable fusion of intellectual complexity and naïve joy.

Harlow Robinson can be reached at harlo@mindspring.com.
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