Monday, February 4, 2008

Bach Cantata Choir performs Super-Bach Concert II

Although the weather on Sunday afternoon vacillated between hail, sleet, sunshine, and all-purpose cloudiness, that didn’t deter about 300 people from attending the Bach Cantata Choir’s second annual Super-Bach concert. They were treated to a festive program of two demanding Bach cantatas and Christoph Graupner’s Concerto in C Major for Oboe d’amore and Strings at the Rose City Park Presbyterian Church.

Bach wrote his Cantata #41 “Jesu, nun sei gepreiset” (“Jesus, Now be Praised”) for New Year’s Day, 1725, in Leipzig where he was entering his second year of service as the music director for the city’s principal churches. This piece opens with a chorus that the 50-voice choir and the 15-piece orchestra, under the direction of Ralph Nelson, sang joyously. The instrumental part calls for three piccolo trumpets that were played with gusto by Gerald Webster, Jeff Snyder, and John Kim.

Soprano Elisa Groves, alto Irene Weldon, tenor Byron White, and bass Jacob Herbert excelled in their solos. Unfortunately, violist Shawne Stone’s playing was off the mark during the tenor aria, which marred the effect of that section.

The chorus delivered the final chorale, “Dein ist allein die Ehre” (“Yours alone is the glory”) with warmth, and the audience joined during the second time through (in English). The trumpets put on a flourish and made the outcome of this cantata glorious.

Graupner wrote 44 concerti, and his music has been rediscovered during the last hundred years. The graceful performance by Paul Pitkin as the featured artist in Graupner’s concerto for oboe d’amore and strings, made me want to hear more works by this contemporary of Bach. Pitkin painted a pleasant variety of tones that ranged from mellow to cheery, and the languid second movement melted like butter on a warm, summer day.

A small ensemble that included violist Rae Richen, cellist Dale Tolliver, violinists Mac Kim and Maria Powell, and harpsichordist John Vergin supported Pitkin with very well. The third, and final movement had a nice bounce to it, and elicited enthusiastic applause from the audience.

Before beginning Bach’s Cantata #19 “Es erhub sich ein Streit” (“There Arose a War”), Nelson explained how the music depicts a passage in Revelation in which St. Michael and his angels defeats Satan. He also got some chuckles by alluding to the Super Bowl football game that has its own style of warfare. He then displayed energetic stick work as he quickly launched the choir and orchestra into the first chorus.

Bass Herbert, tenor White, and soprano Mel Zupan sang their solos wonderfully and the chorus expressed the final chorale “Lass Dein’ Engel mit mir fahren” (“Let your angel travel with me”) with rapture. Again the audience joined the chorus the second time around in English, which is a great way to involve them in this great music of Bach.

Acoustical Note: At last year's concert, I sat in the main section of the church, but the sound seemed uneven. This year I briefly tried under the balcony and quickly found that a lot of the sound was cut out. I moved up to the balcony and found this to be the best place. The sound from the choir was more present, but I still have trouble hearing the bass section. I know that the basses are fine, so I'm wondering if the bass sound (from where the basses section is placed) just doesn't carry well in that building.

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