‘Bach’s Christmas Vespers 1723’ - Oxford Baroque - King’s Place

Oxford Baroque performed a programme entitled ‘Bach’s Christmas Vespers 1723’ on Saturday 10th of December 2016 at King’s Place - as part of the venue's ‘Baroque Unwrapped’ season. Jeremy Summerly conducted the choir and orchestra of Oxford Baroque throughout this fascinating programme which included liturgically-linked music by Bach, Franck, Gabrieli, Kuhnau, Praetorius and others.

JS Bach Magnificat [BWV 243a]
Kuhnau Uns ist ein Kind geboren*
Gabrieli Hodie Christus natus est 
Franck Ein Kind ist uns geboren

© Photography David Lee

"Drawing together information relating to the contemporary liturgy and knowledge we have of the other music performed there by Bach, this performance invites the listener to hear Bach’s exuberant masterpiece alongside the beautiful chant propers and polyphony of the stile antico, in the context for which it was originally intended.” - Oxford Baroque

* 'Uns ist ein Kind geboren’ was previously thought to have been composed by Bach (it even has a catalogue number: BWV 142). It has since been credited to Johann Kuhnau (1660 - 1722), Bach’s predecessor at the Thomasschule and Thomaskirche in Leipzig.

A particular highlight of the evening came from the recorder player László Rózsa who tastefully and brilliantly performed his own diminutions on the madrigal 'Ancor che co'l partire' by Cipriano de Rorewith a small vocal ensemble. After this, the full ten-piece choir sang an unaccompanied version of 'In Dulci Jubilo' - setting a celebratory feeling in the second half of the concert that would continue throughout Bach's ‘E-flat Magnificat’ [BWV 243a]. We had an excellent wind section for this concert, also including Hayley Pullen (not pictured) on bassoon.

© Photography David Lee

Trumpeters: Russell Gilmour, William Russell and Gareth Hoddinott joined Oxford Baroque to perform the ‘E-flat Magnificat'. The trumpet section had been enjoying a busy and rewarding day, rehearsing Bach’s B Minor Mass (in D at A=415Hz) in the morning for a different project, before playing this piece with Oxford Baroque (in E-flat at A=415Hz) in an afternoon rehearsal and evening performance. The trumpet section was firing on all cylinders and it felt great - it is such a pleasure to play with Will and Gareth. The word ‘wow’ was mouthed towards us after we played the final, resultant-filled, chord in ‘Fecit Potentiam’. Oxford Baroque had chosen to perform the ‘E-flat Magnificat’ including the seasonal insertions: 'Vom Himmel hoch’, 'Freut euch und jubiliert’, 'Gloria in excelsis Deo' and 'Virga Jesse which showcased their wonderful choir and soloists.

© Photography Russell Gilmour

Thanks to our friends in the City Bach Collective we have a great photo - taken at the end of the concert.

© Photography David Lee

1723 was clearly a significant year for Bach - he became Thomaskantor in Leipzig and from then, we begin to find more frequent use of the Zugtrompete (slide trumpet), one of the instruments used by the Stadtpfeifer of Leipzig.

“[Bach] found a long-standing local tradition of good trumpet playing [in Leipzig]. His predecessors, Sebastian Knüpfer (1633 - 1676), [Johann] Schelle (1648 - 1701) and Johann Kuhnau (1660 - 1722), had all written trumpet music. A feature of their writing, owing to the particular instruments used by the Stadtpfeifer, was the occasional use of slide trumpets. These were equipped with a long single slide inside the mouthpipe, so that the entire instrument had to be moved back and forth; they were used mainly for playing chorales”- Edward H. Tarr - Cambridge Companion to Brass Instruments - Page 92

I performed 'Suscepit Israel’ on a replica of a slide trumpet from 1651 by Huns Veit of Naumburg. (Incidentally, Bach had visited Naumburg with the renowned organ-builder Georg Silbermann). I have played this instrument a fair few times in pressured circumstances (including live on the radio in the Leipzig BachFest earlier this year), so I am beginning to feel more comfortable on the Zugtrompete. There remain to be a significant number of slide trumpet obbligati by Bach that are left almost untouched by 21st century, historically-informed performers.

It was a very enjoyable concert - and thanks to all who played, sung, directed and organised it.

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