LEIPZIG--Leipzig likes to think of itself as the city of music and with Johann Sebastian Bach having been one of its citizens for the last decades of his life, the annual June Bach Festival (Bachfest) becomes a natural high point of celebration.
This year it also became a high point of celebration for Tafelmusik, when the Toronto period-instrument orchestra was honoured by an invitation to be ensemble-in-residence, performing in the June 13 opening concert in St. Thomas Church (Thomaskirche) as well as two more in the other principal church of Bach´s day, the St. Nicholas (Nikolaikirche).
Since 2014 marks the 300th anniversary of the birth of Bach´s second eldest son, Tafelmusik, like many other performers in the ten-day, 100-plus event program, has embraced music by Carl Phillip Emanuel, including, in the opening concert, a Magnificat new to the players and so full of harmonic variety and melodic invention that it easily stood comparison with his father´s great D Major Magnificat, daringly programmed in the same concert.
In addition to a quartet of fine soloists the performance featured the church´s resident, almost legendary Thomanerchor (St. Thomas Church Choir), the education of whose boys represented one of Bach´s sometimes frustrating duties as cantor.
Illness prevented his latest successor, Georg Christoph Biller, from conducting the concert. In his place a deputy, Gotthold Schwarz, presided high above the capacity audience in the rear organ loft.
As musical venues, both St. Thomas and St. Nicholas, in common with many other churches, serve choirs better than orchestras with their highly resonant acoustics, but Tafelmusik coped well in its St. Nicholas concert with the accomplished violin soloist Midori Seiler, sister of Toronto-based violinist Mayumi Seiler.
In common with many touring orchestras Tafelmusik played host to extra players, a mixed blessing in the case of a pair of European-based French horns, whose accuracy in a Bach sinfonia turned out to be occasional. Otherwise, the orchestra performed in top form, with principal oboist John Abberger particularly outstanding, partnering violinist-music director Jeanne Lamon in the reconstituted Bach Concerto BWV 1060R.
The Bach Festival constitutes Lamon´s final assignment as music director, appropriately climaxing a 33-year career with the ensemble. If anyone can be said to have been the architect of its musical success, she is surely the one. It will be difficult imagining who can fill her well-worn shoes.
Meanwhile, one final Lamon-led concert remains, Saturday´s festival presentation in the Nikolaikirche of Handel´s seldom-heard Brockes-Passion, a performance scheduled to have been conducted by the celebrated Christopher Hogwood, whose recent illness has led to his replacement by Paul Goodwin, artistic director of California´s Carmel Bach Festival.
But whether Hogwood or Goodwin conducts, the players of Tafelmusik will be looking as usual to the occupant of the concertmaster´s chair for special guidance. She is bound to be missed.