Bach Vespers at St.Mary-at-Hill

St. Mary-at-Hill is a delightful church in the heart of London. I have been here several times, for rehearsals and recordings but I had never done a performance there before. I had been invited by the Director of Music and Organist Martin Knizia to play Bach's Jauchzett Gott in Allen Landen BWV 51, with the soprano Emily Atkinson.

This concert wasn't in fact a concert at all, it was an evening service, entitled 'Bach Vespers'. The service is a paradise for music-lovers. The concert started with an impressive Chorale Prelude of Praetorius' hymn Nun lob, mien Seel, den Herren. This segued straight into the English hymn 'My soul, now praise your maker' (the same tune), for which the music was provided on the service sheet.

The music continued after a greeting and a psalm reading, and Martin Knizia played another chorale prelude on the large organ. The prelude was 'Vater unser im Himmelreich' by J. S. Bach, and the hymn had English words.

Readings followed and 'Wir gläuben all' by Samuel Scheidt was the next hymn. There were more readings and the next item was the Cantata Jauchzett Gott inn Allen Landen BWV 51. After a sermon (which referenced the music of the service), there was another cantata (without trumpet), entitled Warum betrübst du rich, mein Herz? BWV 138. With beautiful singing from Soprano, Alto, Tenor and Bass and excellent oboe playing too.

Prayers, collects, blessings and announcements followed and we enjoyed Alle Menschen Müssen Sterben by J.S.Bach, and a Postlude entitled Prelude in C major - also by J. S. Bach.

Although I'm not a particularly religious person, it was a great pleasure for me to perform a cantata in a church service. It felt appropriate to perform Bach in its natural habitat. It was also nice to have silence after each item, with applause kept until the very end of the whole service. The people involved were all delightful, and it was nice to catch up with some colleagues I haven't seen in a while. The service was a delight for any lover of music, but particularly those who love Bach.

Russell Gilmour
Russell Gilmour Blog
writing on music, photography, engraving, travel and life as a freelance professional musician.