We invite ticket holders to Pre-Concert Talk. The discussion with Petra Müllejans and Lionel Meunier begins at 6.30 pm.
Vox Luminis was established in Belgium 17 years ago by the bass Lionel Meunier. “Gain access to the Light through the Voice” is the ensemble’s motto. They posit themselves as a group of soloists who perform in various combinations, accompanied by either basso continuo or a whole orchestra. Their repertoire is centred on Italian, French, and German compositions from the sixteenth to eighteenth centuries. Vox Luminis has recorded 13 albums, which have garnered numerous prestigious awards, including two from Gramophone and a BBC Music Magazine Award in 2018. The ensemble presents its rich range of programmes both in Belgium and abroad. Writing for Forumopera in August 2018, Yvan Beuvard gave high praise: “The soloists of Vox Luminis are characterised by their purity of output, freshness of voice, dynamics and execution, at a rare level of perfection. Their expressive qualities, in which simplicity and fervour compete with gravity and enthusiasm, excellently augment their demanding repertoire.”
The vocal line-up will be accompanied by the Freiburger Barockorchester (FBO), which has a world-class reputation for its erudite interpretation of early music. The orchestra was founded by enthusiastic students of the Freiburg University of Music almost 35 years ago. After two years of rehearsals and intense research of the sources to understand how Baroque music should be played authentically on period instruments, they decided to go public. This ushered in spectacular international success at world-famous concert venues, leading to their present schedule of over a hundred concerts each year. They have released more than 60 recordings and won numerous awards. In 2009 they were the first Baroque orchestra to be invited to perform at the opening concert of the great Salzburger Festspiele.
The core of their repertoire encompasses the seventeenth century alongside Romantic and modern works. The “Freiburgers” inspire contemporary composers to experiment with new uses for the timbre of Baroque instruments, and this influence is mutual. For example, the ensemble has performed a contemporary piece by Manfred Trojahn based on motives from Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 4.
The orchestra is led by a concertmaster, as was customary in the eighteenth century, and thus does not have any conductor. It is headed by two artistic directors: Gottfried von der Goltz and Kristian Bezuidenhout. The renowned conductor René Jacobs is invited as a guest conductor for the realisation of larger works, and this effective collaboration has earned the musicians the German Recording of 2009 critics’ award for their rendition of Mozart’s opera Idomeneo. The FBO also cooperates frequently with the acclaimed countertenor Philipp Jaroussky, the baritone Christian Gerhaher, or the violinist Isabelle Faust. Individual members also perform as soloists and in studio recordings. The orchestra has its own subscription series in Freiburg, Stuttgart, and at the Berliner Philharmonie. As the musicians themselves say, the FBO is characterised by having high demands on interpretation, enjoying music to the full, and being ever open to exploring unknown works or uncommon approaches to standard repertoire.
Today’s concert is to be something of a sky-bound affair, with their rendition of Johan Sebastian Bach’s Ascension cantata Auf Christi Himmelfahrt allein (On Christ’s Ascension). The composer wrote the cantata during his Leipzig period in 1725, when he held the post of cantor at St Thomas Church and strove to reform sacred music. The librettos of all of Bach’s Leipzig cantatas strictly adhere to the prescribed dual function of Lutheran sermons: Biblical exegesis and theological instruction is followed by practical moral advice. The cantatas mostly start with an opening chorus based on a quote from the Bible reading for the given day. This predetermines the explanation of Scripture, articles of faith, and theological context (“musical sermon”), which are provided by the first recitative and aria. The second recitative and aria lead to considerations of the consequences that arise from this in practical Christian life. The text ends with a congregational prayer in the form of a hymn verse.
The author of the next cantata on the programme, Ich fahre auf zu meinem Vater (I Go Up to My Father), is Bach’s contemporary, Georg Philipp Telemann, who composed more than 1,400 cantatas to create several complete cycles for each Sunday of the church year. Although Telemann’s cantatas are not as innovative or detailed, they often contain progressive compositional solutions and excel with their magnificent melodies, rich sound, and overall vitality. Like Bach, Telemann reacted to new tendencies in music, which allowed him to take Lutheran music in a new direction.
The violin “Rosary sonata” Vzkříšení Krista (The Resurrection of Christ) by the North Bohemia-born composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber was written around 1670. Biber created the cycle of fifteen sonatas on the Marian mysteries for his patron, the Archbishop of Salzburg. The composer augmented the violin and its technique to a new level. His works were unprecedentedly demanding and virtuosic, to a degree that few others achieved in the Baroque era.
The programme will be concluded by Bach’s Ascension Oratorio from 1735, which builds on the composer’s previous cantata series and his so-called Christmas and Easter oratorios. His Ascension Oratorio shares some of the features of the former of the two, including a generous orchestration that includes three trumpets and timpani. The celebratory character of the composition reflects the grandiose importance of the feast, on which occasion the first half of the oratorio would be performed before the sermon and the second half would then follow as a kind of meditation.