in: Reviews

March 21, 2011

Fine Bach Mass from Cantata Singers

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Many musical groups wander aimlessly through Bach’s great Mass in B Minor savoring individual gestures with no apparent conception of the the larger arc. The Cantata Singers and ensemble, however, were able not only to inflect the delicious details, but also  successfully and gracefully to reinforce the overarching grandeur. The concert, given on March 17 at Jordan Hall, was clearly appreciated by the surprisingly small audience (the venue appeared to be just more than half full). The group was led by David Hoose, a long-time fixture with the Cantata Singers and the Director of Orchestral Activities at Boston University. The group was also joined by a number of vocal soloists, most of whom are regularly featured within the Boston professional music scene.

The group’s effective and nuanced execution of the work’s complex structures and especially thick and complex textures showed not only a high level of technical ability and artistic control, but also an impressive grasp of the individual movements’ larger shapes. The chorus and orchestra were very successful in their collaboration, despite a relatively small number of technical errors, as well as intonation and balance issues between the two groups (in particular, the trumpets struggled with technical issues in the first half of the program, and the low strings occasionally had issues with intonation in the second half). The choreography of individual singers’ movements from their position in the chorus to their station as soloists was well planned, offering minimal disruption to the flow of the concert. The soloists’ performances featured a wide range of success.

The work opened with an effectively dramatic choral intonation followed by an elegant orchestral introduction. One of the performance’s least expressive moments came during the “Kyrie eleison” that followed the orchestral introduction, which in an odd circumstance, came as Hoose gave perhaps his most active conducting gesture of the evening, at times giving a separate gesture for each syllable of the textual phrase. The “Christe eleison” that followed featured soprano Karyl Ryczek and mezzo-soprano Lynn Torgove; both soloists executed the “Christe” elegantly, though Torgove was occasionally overbalanced by the orchestra as well as her fellow soloist. The closing “Kyrie” featured the first of the performance’s many long-breathed dynamic shapes which, in tandem with an impressively clear and well-balanced ensemble texture, effectively guided the audience to the apex of the extensive fugue.

The “Gloria” featured a number strong characteristic contrasts. The first was offered as the jubilant opening “Gloria in excelsis Deo/Glory to God in the highest” was replaced by the intensely staid “Et in terra pax/And peace on earth”; the light and nimble ensemble among the sopranos in the movement’s closing fugue was particularly impressive. The issue of balance between the soloists and the ensemble was improved considerably in later movements, as demonstrated in the “Laudamus te/We praise thee” and the “Domine Deus/Lord God,” though Torgove continued to be covered in her lower vocal ranges. Concertmistress Danielle Maddon offered a very lyrical and sensitive obbligato accompaniment in the former movement. Soloist Janna Baty was featured in the “Qui sedes ad dextris Patris” (Who sits on the right hand of the father), offering a performance that was perhaps the most effective vocal solo performance of the evening, featuring not only beautiful and expressive singing, but also impeccable ensemble balance and interplay and a style of personal comportment which perfectly matched the tone of the text. Baty’s solo was supported by an obbligato accompaniment by Peggy Pearson on the Baroque oboe d’amore. “Quoniam tu solus sanctus (You alone are holy)” featured bass soloist Mark Andrew Cleveland and horn soloist Neil Deland. Cleveland’s performance was powerful and majestic, offering a fitting “reading” of the text; Deland matched Cleveland’s power well, though with a few technical bumps and bruises. The “Gloria” was closed with the choral movement, “Cum Sancto Spirito/With the Holy Spirit,” which offered a strong close to the first half of the program.

The second half of the program was opened with the expansive “Credo.” The ensemble executed a strong musical-theatrical gesture by beginning the movement as soon as they had taken their place on stage, giving another example of the group’s effective musical-dramatic choreography; Hoose’s tempo for this movement was rather fast, however, obscuring some of the contrapuntal aspects of the selection. The movements on Christ’s incarnation and crucifixion (“Et incarnatus est” and “Crucifixus,” respectively) featured a hushed and impassioned tone, effectively preparing for the group’s exuberant execution of the section on his resurrection (“Et resurrexit”). “Et in spiritum sanctam/[I believe] in the Holy Spirit” featured baritone Dana Whiteside, who offered a solidly expressive performance, measuring his execution in keeping with the expository nature of the text. Like the “Gloria,” the “Credo” was closed with a dramatic and effective choral movement, featuring another excellently executed long-breathed musical shape.

The “Sanctus” opened with a strong ensemble statement, though it was also the only movement which lacked direction and shape, eventually becoming a “wall of sound.” In the sections of the “Sanctus” which followed, however, the group returned to the level of effective musical expression found in the remainder of their performance. The “Benedictus” (taken from the scriptural account of Christ’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem) featured tenor soloist Frank Kelley, whose vocal timbre was covered and a little too piercing for the text, at times even reaching the point of affectation; obbligato flute soloist Jacqueline DeVoe, on the other hand, offered supple and dexterous shapes to the lilting melodic lines.

“Agnus Dei/Lamb of God,” was opened with another solo by alto soloist Janna Baty, who again offered an expressive and moving performance. The concert was closed with the “Dona Nobis Pacem/Lord, Grant them peace,” beginning with a hushed intensity which slowly and evenly grew to a moving climax, encapsulating the strongest aspects of the Cantata Singers’s fine rendition of Bach’s great work.

Joel Schwindt is currently pursuing a Ph.D. in musicology at Brandeis University. In addition to performances as a vocalist and conductor, his writings have been published by the Baerenreiter-Verlag publishing house and the Choral Journal.

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