Performing Arts: The Virtuoso Bach

by patrickmccoy

The Washington Bach Consort showcased instrumental and vocal talent at National Presbyterian Church.

Soprano Elizabeth Futral gave a jubilant rendering of Bach’s cantata “Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen.” (Photo by Beth Lewis)

The word virtuoso is perhaps most associated with an instrumentalist who performs at an exceptional level. The recent concert by The Washington Bach Consort provided an opportunity to experience the voice in an almost equal fashion. Opening the program was the Brandenburg “Concerto No. 2 in F Major, BWV 1047.” A work in three movements, the piece was a vehicle to showcase the solo talents of consort soloists, including Josh Cohen (trumpet), Gwyn Robert (recorder), Geoffrey Burgess, (oboe) and concertmaster Andrew Fouts. The beginning allegro and the final allegro assai provided an exciting contrast to the middle andante movement.

Soprano Elizabeth Futral joined the concert for two cantatas for soprano and orchestra. Bach’s  “Non sa che sia dolore” BWV 209 was recorded by the consort with Futral a few years ago on a commercially available CD. For a program titled “The Virtuoso Bach,” the performance of the same work before the live audience at National Presbyterian Church did not seem to offer the same precise execution. Vocal entrances at the beginning of phrases appeared reticent and there was an overall sense of unfamiliarity on the part of the instrumentalists of the ensemble.

Alongside other instrumental works by Bach was his rousing organ solo, “Toccata in C Major” BWV 564 played with verve and excitement by consort founder J. Reilly Lewis. Lewis made full use of the powerful Skinner organ, which is one of the last instruments that firm built before it went out of business.

Futral’s voice in the cantata “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen” BWV 51 painted a full picture of her vocal artistry. As one of Bach’s most famous showpieces for soprano and trumpet, the demands of the vocal line provided the perfect vehicle for both the agility of the voice and trumpet. Together with Cohen, Futral set a tone of majesty as the orchestra provided a solid accompaniment throughout.

Rich in vocal color, Futral sang the opening ‘Jauchzet’ with a rich, full sound that was a welcomed detour from the strict, period-informed style of straight-toned singing. That very style would appear in the following chorale “Sei Lob und Preis,” satisfying the musical taste of the informed early music buff. The concluding “Alleluja!” was a jubilant tour de force for both Cohen’s trumpet and the full glory of Futral’s soprano. There was an engaging interplay of the two solo forces, which combined with the orchestra brought the cantata to a triumphant close.

Petersburg, Va. native Patrick D. McCoy received a B.M. in vocal performance from Virginia State University and an M.M. in church music from the Shenandoah Conservatory in Winchester, Va. He has contributed arts and culture pieces to CBS Washington, The Afro-American Newspaper and the newly published book, “In Spite of the Drawbacks” (Association of Black Women Historians), which includes his chapter on legendary soprano Leontyne Price. McCoy has interviewed some of the most acclaimed artists of our time, including Denyce Graves, Norman Scribner, Julian Wachner, Christine Brewer and Lawrence Brownlee. Listen to these interviews and others at Blog Talk Radio. McCoy may be reached via email at and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.

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