Conductor Caulkins bids farewell with his final Bach Choir Concert

Conductor Caulkins bids farewell with his final Bach Choir Concert

By Georgia Pampel

By Georgia Pampel

Music Critic

Fighting the winds Saturday evening, March 9 to reach the doors of Our Savior’s Lutheran Church, for Joseph Caulkins’ final appearance as conductor of the Bach Chamber Choir, I thought back over the programs that have filled the Rockford air in recent weeks. I can only wonder how any music lover can break away to winter in warmer climes — thereby missing so much musical warmth and richness right here at home.

Caulkins’ move to Florida’s Fort Myers will surely enrich the musical life there, but oh, how he will be missed back here in Rockford, where he has long served as Director of Music for the Second Congregational Church, engineered gala performances that combined other choirs in the community, and even found time to work with the Second City Chorus for a change of pace, as they tackled their barbershop quartet-style programs.

It is easy to be careless, and assume that the Bach Choir sings Bach, and ho hum, you have heard a lot of Bach. Well, read the promotional flyers more carefully the next time you pick them up with your mail. While the standard for excellence may be a devotion to the skills called for to do justice to Bach’s oeuvre, there are always surprises and delights to be found by those who look twice.

This time, the Bach Cantata that opened the program was totally secular, and could almost be viewed as an early exploration into the possibilities of operetta, as two soloists, backed by a capable chamber ensemble, sailed through a witty interchange between a high-born young lady and her peasant suitor, as they complain about taxes, gossip about neighbors who may or may not pay their just dues, and end up praising the new tax collector before going off to the bierstube for a few steins of the local brew.

From the overture, in which the exaggerated contrast of the two themes foretold the humorous material to follow, it was a delight. The young soloists, Soprano Kathy Pyeatt and Baritone Paul Busselberg, both have fine voices as well as the musical taste to succeed in a wide variety of productions. From their separate operatic backgrounds, they knew how a touch of flirtation conveyed by facial expression, gesture, and a twinkle in the eye, helped bring the Cantata to life.

After the intermission, the Chorus made their appearance, filing on stage for the a capella “Song for Athene” by John Tavener (born 1944). An interesting setting of quotes about life’s ending, alternated with Alleluias, the Bach Choir once more demonstrated the clarity that has brought them their fine reputation. Every word was crystal clear, every note was a unified sound, and all quietly supported by the low, straight bass line drawn from Tavener’s 20 years’ experience in the Russian Orthodox Church.

The final work on the program was a more conventional Requiem, the first choral work by Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986), commissioned in 1947. This brought back the soloists, plus Cellist Michael Beert, and Organist Trish Rooney, both familiar names and faces to our local concert audiences. Once more, the diction and the musical discipline that gave such clarity to the sounds gave the choir solo status, as the sure training and direction of Caulkins held it all together.

But the highlight that stayed with me as a memory to hold always was the Pie Jesu, (“Merciful Lord Jesus, Give them rest eternal), performed by the trio of Soprano Pyeatt, Cellist Beert and Organist Rooney, so well blended and balanced that they sounded as a single instrument, a new sound to enchant

the soul.

The Bach Chamber Choir’s next concert will be May 11, again bringing two soloists for two Bach Cantatas (nos. 51 and 158 — remember, at one time Bach’s job called for a new cantata every week!), and two works by Handel. The guest conductor will be NIU Music Professor Eric Johnson.

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