Monday, January 19, 2009

American Bach Soloists: Mass in B Minor

Sunday 18 January 2009
7:00 pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church

American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor
Abigail Haynes Lennox, soprano
Ellen Hargis, soprano
Judith Malafronte, alto
Derek Chester, tenor
Joshua Copeland, bass
American Bach Choir

J. S. Bach: Mass in B Minor, BWV 232

I was fore-sighted enough to have had a ticket in hand for this sold-out concert in advance. People tried to buy it off me as I entered the venue! Clearly the American Bach Soloists continue to do a great job developing their audience.

ABS had much larger forces than usual this evening, though still minimal for this large work. The chorus numbered only 27, including the 5 soloists who also participated in the choruses. I've seen them do one-per-part, but here the orchestra included 4 first violins, 3 second violins, 2 violas, 2 cellos & 2 double bass instruments (Violone grosso & Contrabass) for extra weight. I doubt you could give an effective performance with fewer personnel.

It was an evening of music-making without weaknesses. Everything was very clean. The chorus was well-prepared & was the strongest element of the performance. Though small in number, they made a powerful, focused sound. It was easy to hear even the inner voices, especially the steely tenors. The chorus executed a wonderfully dramatic pianissimo at the end of the Crucifixus, which was a highlight of the evening. The soloist were all fine & fluid singers. Derek Chester was a stand-out. His sound is clear & even, & his singing very musical.

The tempos were generally fast, but for the most part avoided sounding too bouncy. This is serious stuff after all! The orchestra does a good job, though one still occasionally hears the performers struggling with those original instruments.

I like the setting for these concerts in a Lutheran church, but the acoustic of St. Marks sounds surprisingly dead to me. It seems like the sound dies away immediately. There is none of the reverberation or aural halo I associate with performances in churches.

The ABS audiences are attentive & appreciative. No one clapped between movements, but there were audible murmurs of approval after several numbers. On the way out of the venue, I received a very nice glossy brochure for the ABS season, along with a free CD containing excerpts from their recordings.


Patty said...

Pardon my confusion, but are you saying they didn't use winds at all in this? Just curious!

Axel Feldheim said...

They had all the necessary brass & wind players as called for in the score: flutes, oboes, trumpets, etc. I mentioned the beefed up string section because one time I saw ABS & they had only player per part even in the string section. So if the score said violin I & II, we just got 2 violins. Sorry for the confusion.

I believe there is some historical justification for one player per part, but I prefer at least more strings & singers.

Patty said...

Ah, got it. Thanks for the clarification!

With the # of winds I'd prefer a fuller string section as well.