Bach cantata BWV 131, Bach Vespers, Music-at-hill

It’s a grey, wet day in this final week of July here in London. This is nothing more than the capricious English weather toying with us during the Summer of course. Yet it might be said to reflect the sentiment of a group of musicians about to meet at St. Mary-at-hill church in the City of London.

That’s because this evening threatens to be the final in a series of Bach cantata performances within the liturgy of Lutheran Vespers that has been ongoing since the 1980s. Martin Knizia, the current director of the group (the Sweelinck Ensemble) who also holds the position of cantor of St. Anne’s Lutheran church in London is leaving to take up a position in Berlin. Martin has been the administrative and artistic force behind the series of so-called Bach Vespers, as his predecessor Peter Lea-Cox was before him, so his stepping down brings the series (under the umbrella of Music-at-hill, formerly the St. Anne’s Music Society) to a practical halt.

Martin Knizia & Cheyney Kent

I’ve had the good fortune to have been invited to sing with Martin’s Sweelinck Ensemble more often than not over the past 10 years. Our work has included performances of the St. John Passion and the B Minor Mass, as well as memorable outings of the prima inter pares of Bach solo cantatas, BWV 82, Ich habe genug: one meant walking to St. Anne & St. Agnes, Gresham Street to perform through heavy overnight snow; more recently, we performed the cantata in order to raise funds to try and keep the series going in the face of increased costs and dwindling support in November last year. In addition Martin has unearthed all manner of fine music by Bach and his contemporaries, which we have performed at appropriate moments in the series.

Of course, the miserable weather might well be said to resonate with the cantata we are about to perform in valediction of Martin. BWV 131, Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir is particularly morose even by Lutheran standards of self-abasement. The inexorable trudge of the Bass arioso wonders whether they’ll be anyone left after God has decided who’s worth saving.

BWV 131 and other music by Bach, Buxtehude and Schütz is performed within the Lutheran service of Vespers this evening at 6.30pm. Entrance is free and there is a retiring collection.