Friday, December 25, 2015

ABS: Weihnachts-Oratorium

Earlier this month, I heard the American Bach Soloists perform Bach's Christmas Oratorio in St. Ignatius Church on the USF campus. In his introductory remarks, conductor Jeffrey Thomas told us this was the 1st ABS performance here. The large interior was well-lit & decorated with garlands, so the setting felt especially grand & festive. Performance forces were minimal: 4 soloists, 16 choristers, in a widely spaced row behind the orchestra, & about 20 instrumentalists, mostly one per part. The sound was not as muddy as I had expected, but it did seem to dissipate into the cavernous space rather than fill it.

Everyone gave punctilious, scrupulously consistent performances. Maestro Thomas's tempos were often fleet, but his beat was always perfectly regular & so never felt rushed. Tenor Kyle Stegall had a wonderfully bright, flexible voice & very clear diction. He sang his recitatives expressively, & his virtuoso arias sounded fluent & agile. He seemed to take breaths in comfortable places. I enjoyed the firm yet easeful voice of baritone Jesse Blumberg. He singing was athletic & elegant, & his high notes warm & open.

Soprano Hélène Brunet's voice was high, warbling & youthful & appropriately angelic. Mezzo Agnes Vojtko made a grounded, sustained sound. She executed long phrases efficiently, without seeming to take breaths, & was steadfast. The choristers were secure & dispatched their contrapuntal choruses pristinely. The soloists joined in the chorales, which were stately.

Individual orchestra members stood when they had obbligato parts, & there were many excellent solos. The trumpet's trills were impressively rapid & even. The tone of the flute was pleasingly pure & without breathiness. Debra Nagy's oboe playing is beautifully liquid, & her accompaniment to "Flößt, mein Heiland" was flowing & had clear-cut dynamics. The aria's off-stage echo voice always came in neatly on time. The strings played vigorously, & leader Elizabeth Blumenstock gave a vivid, wave-like motion to her part in "Ach, wenn wird die Zeit erscheinen." The horns struggled to be in tune.

The concert was well attended, & the sober-minded audience refrained from applauding between the separate cantatas, though many stood enthusiastically for the performers at the end. There were long lines for restrooms, even if one ventured outside to a nearby building. Late-comers squeezed themselves into a non-existent seat next to my concert companion, not realizing that they were in the wrong pew.

§ Bach's Christmas Oratorio
American Bach Soloists
American Bach Choir
Hélène Brunet, soprano
Agnes Vojtko, alto
Kyle Stegall, tenor
Jesse Blumberg, baritone
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Saturday December 12 2015 7:30 pm
Saint Ignatius Church, San Francisco

2 comments:

Michael Strickland said...

Well written account of a really lovely concert. And I was SO happy to see that the latecomers were shoved into your row of pews rather than ours right behind you. It felt like a Christmas miracle. Hope you have a lovely day.

Axel Feldheim said...

I feel like audience incidents this this happen more often to me when I'm with the Opera Tattler... Lovely seeing you there that evening as well.