Miami Bach Society offers a stylish and insightful “Christmas Oratorio”

By Lawrence Budmen

“Nativity” by Philippe de Champaigne.

The joy of the holiday season took musical flight Sunday afternoon when the Miami Bach Society presented the first half of Johann Sebastian Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. Impeccably prepared and insightfully conducted by artistic director Donald Oglesby, the performance marked the debut of a period-instrument orchestra, adding stylish authenticity to an excellent performance.

Originally conceived as six cantatas to be performed at separate church services during the period around Christmas and New Years Day, Bach’s 1734 score is an exhilarating and sensitive account of the biblical Nativity. Oglesby performed the first three cantatas in performances that combined Baroque scholarship with spirited contemporary advocacy.

The mellow acoustics of First United Methodist Church in Coral Gables enhanced the warm, bright timbres of the twenty-member period ensemble, composed of early music specialists and some familiar South Florida freelance players. (The one exception, Luciano Magnanini’s contemporary bassoon, was tuned down to Baroque pitch and muted to blend with the lighter tones of the ensemble.) Prior to the performance, Oglesby had some of the players demonstrate the differences in sound and technique that historically authentic instruments entail. The incisive articulation and rhythmic acuity of the seventeen-voice Miami Collegium Musicum and nine member chamber choir Vox Arcanum (including the five vocal soloists) produced a performance of wonderful immediacy and intimate narrative power.

With the gleaming sound of valveless trumpets, tangy Baroque flutes and oboes, and warm, rich gut-stringed instruments, orchestral textures were delightfully transparent. The lithe virtuosity of Mikaho Somekawa on viola da gamba, Cecilia Huerta’s agile cello and Jarod Peroune’s admirably restrained but precise organ provided the superb continuo that accompanied solo recitatives, the potent fulcrum  of a well integrated performance.

Oglesby’s astute balancing of choral voicing vividly emphasized Bach’s magnificent harmonization of Lutheran hymns in the chorales that abound throughout the score. Never stodgy or plodding, Oglesby’s superb command of the music’s structure, tone and emotional contours gave equal weight to the vivacious and meditative aspects of Bach’s masterwork. The felicitous charm of the pastoral Sinfonia that opens Part II was enhanced no end by the uniquely reedy timbre of  three Baroque oboes.

As the Evangelist, Tony Boutte’s intense and dramatic word painting was riveting.  Boutte’s light, agile tenor and superbly negotiated coloratura made his solo aria one of the performance’s many highpoints. Katherine Wiggins’ plush, evenly produced mezzo (a bright spot of recent UM Frost Opera Theater presentations) captured the joy and drama of Bach’s beautiful alto arias. A duet blended Alissa Roca’s high, pure soprano and Carl DuPont’s strong, voluminous bass-baritone to mellifluous effect. Jeffrey Williams’ smooth baritone was potent in both solo and ensemble.

The festive final chorus backed by the joyful peal of three Baroque trumpets and emphatic tympani brought a memorable realization of a too rarely heard Bach masterpiece to a vociferous climax, radiating the spirit of the holidays.

The Miami Bach Society presents the Tropical Baroque Festival featuring ensembles from Italy and France March 1-9, 2013 in Coral Gables. 305-669-1376;

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Miami Bach Society offers a stylish and insightful “Christmas Oratorio””

  1. Posted Nov 28, 2012 at 2:10 pm by Dorothy Harper

    Donald Oglesby is undoubtedly one of Coral Gable’s greatest musical gifts. His history of memorable performances are legend. He’s brought recognition and acclaim to our area. We should call it “Choral Gables”!

Leave a Comment

Mon Nov 26, 2012
at 1:13 pm
1 Comment