CLASSICAL MUSIC: King's Consort; Bath Music Festival

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The Independent Culture
Visitors to Bath Abbey on Saturday evening witnessed an architectural clash between high-flung arches and cardboard-cased loudspeakers mounted on scaffolding. Table lamps with red shades illumined the centre-stage, with brilliant spotlights beaming from above for the second concert in this year's Bath International Music Festival. The ambient hum of audience chatter softened to a whisper when counter-tenor James Bowman, oboist Katharina Spreckelsen and the period-instrument King's Consort under Robert King took their places for an expressively voiced account of Bach's 82nd cantata, "Ich habe genug" - a glorious piece celebrating Simeon's joyful acceptance of death through Christ. The unexpected switch from bass voice (a more popular option) to counter-tenor brought with it an ethereal quality that especially suits the baleful opening aria.

Bowman was on fine form, his powerful voice projecting to the rear of the abbey, always agile, rich in tonal colour (a slightly enfeebled lower register notwithstanding), and graced by much artfully tailored phrasing. Spreckelsen's warmly weaving accompaniment flowered in its ample acoustical space and the gentle pulsing of period strings provided a soothing instrumental backdrop.

The mood-change from resignation to celebration was facilitated by one of Bach's best-known secular cantatas, "Weichet nur, betrube Schatten", or the "Wedding Cantata", where Deborah York employed her small but stylishly modulated soprano to winning effect, most notably in the lilting fourth aria. This particular piece also makes use of the oboe da caccia, with its large open bell and fuller sonority, whereas Pergolesi's rapturously beautiful Stabat Mater found York and Bowman joining forces in happy accord. At first, I wondered if the sheer volume of Bowman's voice might dominate his partner (the first movement's overlapping suspensions showed signs of imbalance), but things soon settled down and the performance offered sublime reportage of what has become one of the repertory's most popular sacred works. Robert Cowan