By Stephen Brookes • The Washington Post • July 8, 2008
Summers can be trying for Bach lovers in Washington, when the classical concert schedule thins out and even the B Minor Mass -- ubiquitous the rest of the year -- seems to have gone to ground.
Fortunately, the Grace Church Bach Festival is filling the gap with five concerts this month at the church in Georgetown. And if the opening concert Sunday was any indication, there should be enough music from the German master to get us all through the doldrums.
The eclectic program, which mixed instrumental and chamber works with the famous Cantata No. 82, opened with two works for organ, "In Dulci Jubilo" and "O Lamm Gottes, Unschuldig," played by festival director Francine Mate. While the first lumbered along without much charm, the second unfolded with nuanced and exultant power.
Violinist Erika Sato followed with two movements from the darkly beautiful Sonata No. 2 in A Minor for unaccompanied violin (BWV 1003), bringing the Andante (surely one of the most gorgeous pieces ever written for solo violin) vividly into focus with an introspective but riveting reading.
Sato was joined by oboist Joseph Deluccio for an elegant account of the Adagio from Bach's Concerto for Violin and Oboe (BWV 1060), and Mate returned on the solo harpsichord for the Toccata in E Minor (BWV 914), which was technically able but rather bland and unfocused; you could see minds wandering all over the hall.
Fortunately, gifted young bass Jonathan Woody took the stage to sing the Cantata No. 82, "Ich Habe Genung." Overcoming some early intonation problems, Woody turned in a rich, nuanced performance and displayed a striking voice. He is a developing artist worth keeping an eye on.
The festival continues this week with performances tonight, tomorrow and Friday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 3 p.m. Admission is by donation.