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Review: St. Barnabas Transports Audience to Christmas in Leipzig

By Richard Schulze

This past Sunday afternoon, St. Barnabas was filled with those who came to hear the Christmas in Leipzig Vespers Concert.

This is the first year that Michael Roush, Director of Music at St. Barnabas, is working in collaboration with Bálint Karosi of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church in New York City. Sunday’s program was excellent because of the quality of performance along with the addition of soloists and instrumentalists from the Bach Collegium of St Peter’s.

The audience was seemingly transformed back to the early 18th century, in Leipzig, Germany, during the time of Advent.

Bach, as an outstanding Lutheran organist at St. Thomas Church in Leipzig, wrote over 200 Cantatas to be sung at services during the year. Hymns also were highly developed at that time in Protestant Germany, and were sung lustily by the whole congregation. The Organ Chorale, Wachet auf! Ruft uns die Stimme, based on a hymn that would have been well known at the time, started the program.

It was a fine example of Bach’s compositional expertise. Bálint Karosi’s rendition showed his excellent skills, coupled with the use of stops on Opus One that I think would have appealed to Bach and his congregation – especially when he added the 16’ and the 32’ Posaune stops.

In many ways, this concert was a Vespers service, combining hymns, lessons, and cantatas. The St. Barnabas Choir demonstrated their well-developed chanting skills at the start and with the Psalm, then led the congregation in singing hymns with great enthusiasm – combined with precision and musicality. The two Cantatas, 62 and 10, combined the skills of the St. Barnabas Choir with the soloists’ strong and musical voices, accompanied by the instrumentalists playing instrumentation of the period.

One could not help but follow the text closely as the beautiful music was performed, and thinking about how blessed the congregation at St. Thomas in Leipzig must have felt, hearing this music for the first time!

Michael Roush’s playing of Bach’s Organ Chorale In dulce Jubilo, with its sweet melodic melody, leading us into the Christmas season, was a fitting conclusion to a memorable concert, combining music and readings in a Vespers format.

The next Vespers presentation on Feb. 11 will be of Bach’s Cantatas 22 and 23, sung by the St. Barnabas Choir, together with soloists and instrumentalists from the Bach Collegium of St. Peters. These two Cantatas were written by Bach as “audition” pieces for his job in Leipzig. However he only submitted Cantata 22 for review – and got the job anyway!

According to Michael Roush, “It is exciting to be able to present Bach’s works as they were intended, in a Church setting. This puts the music into context and brings them a special air of wonder.”

At the conclusion of the concert, those in attendance enjoyed the opportunity to meet the artists from the Bach Collegium and their friends who sang in the St. Barnabas Choir, at a reception sponsored by Happiness Is Catering and Horseneck Wines & Liquors.

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