LISTSERV mailing list manager LISTSERV 16.0

Help for CLASSICAL Archives


CLASSICAL Archives

CLASSICAL Archives


CLASSICAL@COMMUNITY.LSOFT.COM


View:

Message:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Topic:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

By Author:

[

First

|

Previous

|

Next

|

Last

]

Font:

Proportional Font

LISTSERV Archives

LISTSERV Archives

CLASSICAL Home

CLASSICAL Home

CLASSICAL  October 2005

CLASSICAL October 2005

Subject:

Sunday Near the Park with Bach

From:

Steve Schwartz <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Moderated Classical Music List <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 4 Oct 2005 11:54:25 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

Parts/Attachments

text/plain (110 lines)

Sunday near the Park with Bach

At the end of an interesting month, to say the least, I find myself in
Cambridge, Mass.  Last Sunday, a friend asked if I'd like to hear a Bach
cantata at Emmanuel Church in Boston, something the church apparently
does every week, usually under the direction of Craig Smith (I misheard
this initially as Gregg Smith), who had worked with Peter Sellars in
that director's Mozart opera series.  The cantata in question, number
180 "Schmuecke dich, o liebe Seele," happens to be one of my favorites.
So we took the T train to the Park station and walked through the Boston
Public Gardens to Emmanuel.

Having sung in a lot of church choirs in my life, including some very
good ones, I wondered how good such a performance could be.  Bach's
cantatas take some effort, usually more than one weekly rehearsal can
contain.  I kept my thoughts to myself, however.

We arrived, found an empty pew with lots of leg room, and looked
through the order of worship.  In addition to the Bach cantata, the
service contained two motets by John Harbison (also on Emmanuel's music
board), a Schuetz motet, two Bach organ preludes, and one by Buxtehude.
A choir would be good and lucky to get through one of these things after
a week's work.  My misgivings grew.  However, I had to admit the music
cannily chosen.  The service opened with Bach's organ prelude on the
chorale tune "Schmuecke dich, o liebe Seele" ("adorn yourself, o beloved
soul"), a late, meditative work filled with complex, but not tortured
chromaticism.  The organist, Nancy Granert, not only chose beautifully
clear textures, she played the piece with great musical understanding.
So often under the fingers of middlng performers, the rhetorical thread
of Bach's keyboard works disappears, particularly true of the longer
ones.  At least I had the organ pieces to look forward to.  The chorale
itself appeared in the service as a congregational hymn.  So we were
well prepared for the cantata.

The choir came in with Harbison's "Concerning Them Which are Asleep,"
an daring score of dense counterpoint and medium dissonance.  I had known
only Harbison's instrumental music previously.  Certainly nobody in New
Orleans had done anything with the choral works.  Almost every director
there had given up presenting contemporary music, on the grounds that
"since nobody liked that stuff anyway," they shouldn't spend the effort.
Church choirs usually dealt in less troublesome stuff, from the abominable
"praise music" to easier anthems.  Harbison makes no concession to
practicality.  This motet, in its ambition at least, occupies a major
place in his catalogue.  On the basis of this work alone, I regard him
as one of the great modern choral writers.

The choir blew me away.  It handled the score's difficulties as if
they simply didn't exist.  The music, at low dynamic and thickly packed,
separated into cogent lines and dramatic argument.  Intonation was superb,
the tone light, clear, and of a piece.  No one just planted both feet
and wailed.  No one singer stuck out, not even soloists.  Every part
knew when to come forward in the texture and when to step back.  Indeed,
I've heard choral CDs that didn't come up to Emmanuel's technical level
live.  The choir didn't present modern music, but music.  Emmanuel's
singing drove home to me that, despite their advantages, recordings just
don't move you like a great live performance.  There's always some veil
between you and the immediate, full power of the music if you and the
players aren't in the same room.

The chorus came in next with the second Harbison motet, "The Communion
Words" (I Corinthians 11:23-25), lighter and brighter than the first but
again written without compromise.  In spots it reminded me of Kodaly's
choral music -- not a bad thing.  If Harbison has written more choral
music, I definitely want to hear it.

Eventually we got to the cantata (the service, one of the longer ones
I've attended, ran to two hours).  Smith led a full complement of choir,
soloists, and instrumentalists, including piccolo violoncello and oboe
da caccia.  How much money this must cost the church, I have no idea,
but it can't be cheap.  The cantata celebrates the soul's union with
God, God's mercy, and the presence of God's love through the communion
sacrament.  Bach lays the cantata out along typical lines: an elaborate
choral opening, various solos, and a chorale setting at the end.  In the
first movement, the chorus dances around the "Schmuecke dich" chorale
tune.  All the virtues shown by Smith and the choir in the Harbison
stayed with the Bach.  The tenor soloist, Frank Kelley, sang of the
soul's ravishment by Christ in speedy runs that went on forever.  Kelley
has a light voice -- he won't be singing Siegfried any time soon -- but
it's flexible.  He wins you over not so much by his sound (good enough)
as by his intelligence and technique.  At one point, he reserved his
climax for the end of the phrase, normally the part where singers pray
for the air simply to finish.  Soprano Jayne West, whom some may remember
from the televised production of the Sellars Marriage of Figaro set in
Trump Tower, entered with a recitative and a simple statement of the
choral, supported by (for Bach) simple counterpoint.  She had a more
florid aria later on, "Lebens Sonne, Licht der Sinnen" ("Sun of life,
light of the senses), in which the quick chains of runs represent the
sparkle of light.  I've heard maybe two better Mozart sopranos, including
a New Orleans native who had Mozart in her DNA, but West is one smart
and musical singer, with a tone like a sweetwater brook.

The alto and the bass soloists had the most thankless parts -- recitatives.
The bass solo is over in a twinkling.  The alto solo may be the single
most difficult thing in the cantata, with harmonic ambiguities from
Neptune and beyond -- hard as sin to keep in tune -- as Bach portrays
the soul hovering between fear and joy while it contemplates its worthiness
for salvation.  Krista River carried it off superbly.

The band played as well as many a named and feted group.  Mary Ruth Ray,
violist of the Lydian String Quartet, did a wonderful obbligato to the
second soprano solo, while flutist Christopher Krueger skipped nimbly
in concert with tenor Kelley.  The continuo group fried my socks, with
tremendous gamba and keyboard playing.

The bottom line is Emmanuel does this sort of thing every week.  The
more I think about it, the more mysterious it becomes.

Maybe Boston really is the hub of the universe.

Steve Schwartz

Top of Message | Previous Page | Permalink

Advanced Options


Options

Log In

Log In

Get Password

Get Password


Search Archives

Search Archives


Subscribe or Unsubscribe

Subscribe or Unsubscribe


Archives

May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006
April 2006
March 2006
February 2006
January 2006
December 2005
November 2005
October 2005
September 2005
August 2005
July 2005
June 2005
May 2005
April 2005
March 2005
February 2005
January 2005
December 2004
November 2004
October 2004
September 2004
August 2004
July 2004
June 2004
May 2004
April 2004
March 2004
February 2004
January 2004
December 2003
November 2003
October 2003
September 2003
August 2003
July 2003
June 2003
May 2003
April 2003
March 2003
February 2003
January 2003
December 2002
November 2002
October 2002
September 2002
August 2002
July 2002
June 2002
May 2002
April 2002
March 2002
February 2002
January 2002
December 2001
November 2001
October 2001
September 2001
August 2001
July 2001
June 2001
May 2001
April 2001
March 2001
January 2001
December 2000
November 2000
October 2000
September 2000
August 2000
July 2000
June 2000
May 2000
April 2000
March 2000
February 2000
January 2000
December 1999
November 1999
October 1999
September 1999
August 1999
July 1999
June 1999
May 1999
April 1999
March 1999
February 1999
January 1999
July 1997

ATOM RSS1 RSS2



COMMUNITY.LSOFT.COM

Secured by F-Secure Anti-Virus CataList Email List Search Powered by the LISTSERV Email List Manager