Yesterday afternoon in the Concert Hall of the San Francisco Conservatory of Music, the American Bach Soloists (ABS) Academy presented the first of its three “Academy-in-Action” Baroque Marathon concerts. No admission is charged for these events, but donations are appreciated. Most of the programming on these concerts is on a chamber music scale, providing generous opportunities to appreciate the individual achievements of the Academy students.
Programming often concentrates on arias and duets from the cantatas of Johann Sebastian Bach, particularly those whose accompaniment requires only a few instruments. For this listener the most memorable selection was the tenor aria “Kommt, eilet, stimmet Sait under Lieder” (come, hurry, sound string and song) from the BWV 74 cantata Wer mich liebet, der wird mein Wort halten (he who loves me keeps my commandments). The soloist was tenor Jorge Prego, who came from Vigo in Spain to attend this summer’s Academy. His solid command of pitch and dynamics blended impressively with his accompaniment by violinists Sun-Young Shin and Kiyoe Matsuura, violist Lauren Nelson, and a continuo of cellist Andrew Davis, bassoonist Cory Barger, and harpsichordist John Steven Yeh.
On the instrumental side the strongest impression undoubtedly came from bassoonist Simone Walters from Hobart, Tasmania. The soprano aria “Herr, deine Güte reicht” (Lord, your goodness reaches) from the BWV 17 cantata Wer Dank opfert, der preiset mich (he who offers thanks praises Me) has one of Bach’s most vigorous continuo lines. Walters displayed awesome breath control in the gusto with which she dispatched the enthusiastic energy that Bach required. She also provided the perfect support for the sublime sonorities of Brooklyn-based soprano Ju Hyeon Han, whose blindness has not been any detriment to the lightness of touch she brought to her interpretation.
If there was any disappointment, it was that there seemed to be fewer of these outstanding moments than there had been in past Festivals. Too many of the small groups had not yet seemed to command the ability to sound like a well-integrated ensemble, perhaps because the members were not yet up to listening to each other. Indeed, that sense of integration was at its weakest in the opening selection, instrumental dances from John Blow’s Venus & Adonis, played by an abundant string ensemble led by concertmaster Chloe Kim.
The journey of education and training still has a long way to go (but then it always does).