Wednesday, April 30, 2014

ABS: Bach's Legacy

Sunday afternoon I attended the American Bach Soloists' impeccably prepared concert of sacred choral music. The program intermixed Bach with 19th & 20th century composers directly inspired by him. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas directed 33 singers, arrayed as a double chorus. They sang with clarity & a massed sound that was palpable. There were moments when I felt vibrations deeps in my ear canal or thought I heard pitches besides those being sung.

It was great to hear 3 Bach motets on the program. Baritone Thomas Thompson & tenor Jon Lee Keenan were soloists for the Bach Cantata 131, with Mr. Keenan sounding particularly plaintive. My German-speaking concert companion thought that Mr. Thompson consistently pronounced "du willst" as "du willt." 10 instrumentalists provided discreet accompaniment for the Bach works. The oboe obbligato in the cantata was clean & unfussy. My concert companion & I, as well as the couple seated next to us, were puzzled by a horn-like instrument with a curved bore that the program listed it as a taille or tenor oboe.

The chorus conveyed a distinct mood for each of Mendelssohn's Sechs Sprüche, which sounded luminous & optimistic. The Bach motet Der Geist hilft was both joyful & solemn. The chorus had great dynamic range & expressed a feeling of confident faith in Fest- und Gedenksprüche by Brahms. The version of Komm, Jesu, Komm by Swedish composer Sven-David Sandström clearly used phrases from the preceding Bach motet while sounding modern & sometimes intensely dissonant. The sopranos created a beautiful pianissimo on a high note at the end of one section. The program ended with Norwegian composer Knut Nystedt's Immortal Bach, which starts with a Bach hymn & stretches it out, creating eerie layers of sound & an uncanny silence at the end.

A woman seated behind me whispered appreciative comments aloud immediately following several pieces, & the audience gave the performance a standing ovation, though it almost felt unseemly to applaud during such a concert. It took a while for me to come back down to earth.

§ American Bach Soloists
Bach's Legacy
Motets and Choral Works by Bach and his Followers

American Bach Choir
Jon Lee Keenan, tenor
Thomas Thompson, baritone
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Sei Lob und Preis mit Ehren, BWV Anh. 231 (Leipzig, after 1724)
Aus der Tiefen rufe ich, Herr, zu dir, BWV 131 (Mühlhausen, 1707)
    Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)

Sechs Sprüche zum Kirchenjahr, Op.79 (Published posthumously, 1848)
    Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847)

Der Geist hilft unser Schwachheit auf, BWV 226 (Leipzig, 1729)

Fest- und Gedenksprüche, Op. 109 (1890)
    Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)

Komm, Jesu, komm BWV 229 (unknown, but probably in Leipzig, before 1732)

Komm, Jesu, komm (2005)
    Sven-David Sandström (b.1942)

"Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich"
Chorale from Erhalt uns, Herr, bei deinem Wort, BWV 126
Cantata for Sexagesimae (Leipzig, 1725)

"Verleih uns Frieden gnädiglich," op Posth.

Komm, süßer Tod, komm selge Ruh', BWV 478 (Leipzig, 1736)

Immortal Bach (1988)
    Knut Nystedt (b.1915)

Sunday, April 27, 2014, 4:00 pm
St. Mark's Lutheran Church

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