Dallas — The Dallas Bach Society’s Dec. 8 concert, A Baroque Christmas, at Zion Lutheran Church was a beautifully set program with purposeful execution. Under the direction of Artistic Director James Richman, this group offers the community an artful commitment to historical authenticity with a strict adherence to Baroque era performance principles.
In this holiday celebration, Richman brought together a collection of pieces (mostly cantatas) that, in their time, ran the gamut of public appreciation—most serving as artfully entertaining; others intellectually challenging and engaged. Whatever the stimulation, though, each piece was quintessentially Baroque in its storytelling.
As Richman tells it, Baroque composers always aimed to capture an image in their compositions, and the prevailing imagery of Joseph, the Virgin Mary, and the babe Christ lying in an agrestic manger often lent itself to more pastoral settings.
The program consisted of two German cantatas based on the hymn Nun komm der Heiden Heiland by Martin Luther. The first, which opened the performance, set by the Georg Philipp Telemann, is altogether pleasing and easy to listen to; while the second, closing the program, was set by Johann Sebastian Bach and is considerably more complex in both execution and consumption, however still pleasing and attainable.
Solos from the 12-voice group were solid, thoughtful, and stylistically precise, featuring soprano Anna Fredericka Popova, alto Sarah Daniels, tenor Hunter Birkhead, and bass Brandon Gibson. Tonally, each brought a special layer of darkened nuance to the space.
Also featured was soprano Julianna Emanski, performing as the soloist in Cantata pastorale per la nascita di Nostro Signore by the Italian Baroque composer Alessandro Scarlatti. The piece was demanding, and yet, straightforward in its artistic aims. Emanski delivered alternating recitatives and arias with a delightfully clear ring in the higher registers that filled the space well. Her coloratura was precise, expressive, and gorgeous, while still maintaining a thematically appropriate sense of darkness and depth that brought dimension to the program.
Other pieces in the program included the French composer Marc Antoine Charpentier and his In nativitatem Domini Nostri Jesum Christum Canticum, which featured a charming sextet from the choir, and Heinrich Schütz’s Antiphon: Hodie Christus natus est. In Schütz’s piece, the choir engaged in uplifting passages of an “Alleluia” chorus, which was bright and engaging, balancing the program in tonal color and effect.
That was the theme of this program—a presentation of Advent-based Baroque music that was at once self-identifiable in style and substance, but also easy for culture buffs and general music-lovers alike to connect to. The patrons, nearly filling the sanctuary at Zion Lutheran Church, were gifted an impassioned presentation of beautiful music and magnificent story-telling. The choir, along with an eight-piece orchestra on historically accurate instruments, continued their commitment to truthful artistry in reverence of the Baroque era.
With Richman enthusiastically conducting from his perch at the harpsichord, his love this distinct style of music came through with stark influence, and his mission to disseminate this lovely artform to the community was effectively executed with style, structure, and sincerity.
» The Dallas Bach Society presents its annual Messiah Sing-along at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 22 at Zion Lutheran Church; and its full-scale Messiah at 7 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 23 at the Meyerson Symphony Center.