Tuesday, March 03, 2015

ABS: St. Matthew Passion

Derek Chester
Sunday afternoon I heard American Bach Soloists deliver a spotless performance of the St. Matthew Passion, done with just one person per part. The singers were arrayed behind the orchestra, & 8 soloists sang both the arias & the choruses. Their combined voices were strong, & the choruses sounded incisive & convincing. 16 additional singers, representing the congregation, joined in the chorales & the opening & closing choruses. The Pacific Boychoir, sounding neat & poised, sang in both the opening chorus & the chorale at the end of part 1.

Tenor Derek Chester sounded sweet as the Evangelist, & his performance was much more like singing than declaiming. He was so consistently lyrical that the one or two times his voice had a slight hiccup, it was very noticeable. Baritone William Sharp sang Jesus plus the aria "Mache dich," & he conveyed maturity, softness & calm.

Agnes Vojtko, singing alto 1, made an earthy, grounded sound & sang with urgency. Clara Rottsolk sang the soprano 2 arias with a full, liquid voice & supple phrasing. Countertenor Jay Carter, as alto 2, had firm high notes, & his upper & lower registers were seamlessly connected. Soprano 1 Hélène Brunet's voice was light, high & a bit warbling. Charles Blandy as tenor 1 sounded bright & ringing, & 2nd tenor Jon Lee Keenan had a focused, slightly raw sound. Bass 1 Thomas Meglioranza made a big, open sound & projected the text well. Bass 2 Joshua Copeland sounded even & flexible.

Every number was meticulously prepared, & the orchestra played cleanly. Violinists Elizabeth Blumenstock & Tekla Cunningham & flutist Janet See executed their obbligato parts with virtuosity. Gamba player William Skeen accompanied "Komm, süßes Kreuz" immaculately & even squeezed a few extra notes into his already complicated part. Debra Nagy played multiple reed instruments with a steady, viscous sound. Conductor Jeffrey Thomas led with somewhat square tempos.

ABS audiences are extremely dedicated, & they were quiet & conscientious throughout, though someone's cell phone rang several times during the 2nd half. The owner apparently could not hear it. The performers received a standing ovation, cheers & even foot stamping from the audience. During the intermission someone reported being seated next to a father with a restless 4-year-old child. My concert companion was struck by the youth of many of the performers & was impressed by Mr. Chester's new facial hair.

§ Bach: St. Matthew Passion
American Bach Soloists
Jeffrey Thomas, conductor

Derek Chester, tenor (Evangelista)
William Sharp, baritone (Christus)

Hélène Brunet & Clara Rottsolk, sopranos
Agnes Vojtko, mezzo-soprano - Jay Carter, countertenor
Charles Blandy & Jon Lee Keenan, tenors
Thomas Meglioranza & Joshua Copeland, baritones
American Bach Choir & Pacific Boychoir

Sunday March 1 2015 4:00 p.m.
St. Mark’s Lutheran Church, San Francisco

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