Bach Cantatas

I sang in the Bach concert St Ann’s, Dawson Street, yesterday as a member of The Cantata Singers. Four cantatas, numbers 62, 61, 60 and 36. This year sees the end of the Orchestra of St Cecilia ten-year project; by the last concert on the 7th of March, all 200 extant church cantatas by J S Bach will have been performed. Bravissimo! What next? Well, there are the secular cantatas, which strangely include (according to Lindsay, the St Cecilia manager) the Actus Tragicus: the funeral cantata with two recorders and two viols. Ausgezeichnet!—or as they say in the States, Outa sight.

Dublin’s Cantata Singers were founded by John Beckett in the seventies, when he began the tradition of doing cantatas in St Ann’s on Sunday afternoons in February. He played the piano himself for our rehearsals, brilliantly. Such a stickler for time: his rehearsals were set for 8pm but everyone knew well enough to come early—they always actually began at five to eight.

In those days if you got a phone call at 7.30 in the morning, you knew it was John Beckett.

Our high point came in 1979 when the Cantata Singers were invited to do an all-Bach programme for the London Proms, conducted by John and with the previous incarnation of the Orchestra of St Cecilia, confusingly then called The New Irish Chamber Orchestra. I remember clearly travelling by tube to the concert, and having to restrain myself from telling everyone on the train ‘I’m going to sing in the Albert Hall’. The following year we did a similar concert in the Flanders Festival, in Bruges.

When John died three years ago, Rhoda Draper put together a memorial concert for him in St Ann’s. She contacted all the old Cantata Singers and a mighty proportion of us got back together for the concert, under David Milne. Since then we have regrouped twice, for Lindsay’s cantata series last year and yesterday. We haven’t lost our verve.

In 1973, just after he started putting on the cantatas, John also began the Academy viol consort class, which I attended and eventually inherited when he left for London in 1983. Honor took it for the five years I was in Clare in the nineties, and just last September it left the Academy: it continues on Wednesdays in my house. As a viol player, its most distinguished ex-member must be Ibi Aziz, who fell in love with the viol and gave up medical studies in TCD to become a career violist. Four of us are off to a course taught by him in Wales next April.

4 Responses to “Bach Cantatas”

  1. malo Says:

    isn’t that brilliant, all 200 cantatas. What a body of work. I’ve done a few over the years of this series and will be in the last few as it happens. Might be a well-deserved pint after, maybe?

  2. Aoife Says:

    I read a review on Irish Times online earlier in the week, sounded good!

  3. recumbentman Says:

    Yep. Supporters in the audience agreed

  4. John Elwes Says:

    Yes the Bach Cantata project is a tremendous feat. Well done and bravo to all concerned.

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