There’s something wonderfully rejuvenating about the music of Bach: a repertoire thus so fitting to herald the beginning of spring. The Houston Symphony’s program over the Easter weekend offered a thoughtfully curated slice of Bach, showing the many sides of the composer’s vast output: sacred and secular, vocal and instrumental. A pair of cantatas was bookended by orchestral works, brought to life under the authoritative baton of Baroque specialist Dame Jane Glover.

Dame Jane Glover and Aralee Dorough
© Houston Symphony

The Concerto for Oboe and Violin in C minor is something of conjectured work, reconstructed from an existing concerto for two keyboards. As with the rest of the program, it served as an opportunity for the spotlight to shine on various Houston principals, in this case, concertmaster Yoonshin Song and oboist Jonathan Fischer. An opening Allegro was given an energetic workout with deftly coordinated interplay between the two soloists. The soloists offered both virtuosity and sensitivity, and the orchestra responded in authentic Baroque style, guided by Glover’s expertise. An Adagio put the lyrical potential of both instruments front and center for a beautiful paragraph of repose, while the closing movement reinvigorated, crisply articulated.

Amongst Bach’s 200+ cantatas, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen! is the only one to be scored for trumpet and soprano soloist – here, Houston’s principal Mark Hughes along with Yulia Van Doren. The yield was an especially bright timbre as the clarion tones of the piccolo trumpet reflected off of Van Doren’s flowing melismas and command of the wide tessitura. A further aria provided a touchingly inward moment, with the soprano grounded by an accompaniment distilled to just the continuo (cello and harpsichord). The closing chorale was a joyous affair, especially in the final Alleluja wherein the solo trumpet returned.

Yoonshin Song, Dame Jane Glover, Jonathan Fischer and the Houston Symphony
© Houston Symphony

An abbreviated version of Vergnügte Ruh, beliebte Seelenlust followed, showing the remarkable diversity Bach was able to achieve within the cantata form. This was starkly more contemplative and solemn than the luster of the preceding, not in the least owing to the mellow oboe d’amore (Anne Leek) and the huskier tone of Elizabeth DeShong’s mezzo-soprano. The closing aria, however, was marked by limber flute acrobatics (Aralee Dorough), a graceful contrast to the heavy-handed subject matter.

A return to the domain of instrumental music closed the program, namely the Orchestral Suite no. 2 in B minor, and Dorough remained in the limelight for the substantial solo flute part. The overture was stately and purposeful, but soon to be countered by a lively sequence of dances, none more exciting than the Badinerie with the flutist's rapid-fire playing making for a rousing conclusion.

This performance was reviewed from the Houston Symphony video stream