Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Bach Cantata Choir trumps weather with vibrant concert

The really snowy stuff held off just long enough on last Friday evening (December 19) for the Bach Cantata Choir to give a spirited performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio, BWV 248, Parts 1-3 and several movements from Marc-Antonie Charpentier's "Messe de Minuit." The Rose City Park Presbyterian Church wasn't as full as it would have been under normal conditions (earlier in the week only 50 tickets were left), but the brave folks that made it to the concert were rewarded with some excellent music making.

After a slight hesitation at the very beginning, the choir and orchestra performed the "Messe de Minuit" in a straight-ahead manner. Charpentier’s music is based on French ChristmaCs Carols and has several opportunities for singers to perform alone and small ensembles. I heard some fine singing by sopranos Laurie Miller Vischer and Elise Groves, alto Elizabeth Farquhar, tenors Brian Haskins and Mark Woodward, bass Tom Hard. Vischer and Groves, in particular, gave a spirited duet that reminded me of happy, chirping birds.

The 40 plus voices of the Bach Cantata Choir, soloists, and orchestra, all of which were led by Ralph Nelson, delivered a terrific performance of the first three parts of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. They jumped on the lines of the first chorus “Jauchzet, frohlocket, auf, preiset die Tage” (Triumph, rejoicing, rise, praising these days now”) with a jubilant and contagious spirit that affected the rest of the concert.

The orchestra got involved and played well throughout, including really listening to each other and blending their sound to heighten the emotion of the music. Also impressive were trumpeters Jeffrey Snyder, John Kim, and Dean Hinkley, who played their devilishly tricky parts impeccably.

The numerous recitatives and arias by mezzo-soprano Irene Weldon, tenor Byron Wright, and bass Jacob William Herbert were outstanding. Weldon’s warm voice excelled especially in “Bereite dich, Zion, mit Zaertlichen Trieben” (“Prepare thyself, Zion, with tender affection”) and in “Schliesse, mein Herze, dies selige Wunder” (“Keep thou, my heart now, this most blessed wonder”). Wright’s voice showed superb suppleness in “Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet” (“Joyful shepherds, haste, ah hasten”), which contains numerous lightening-quick runs. Among the highlights of Herbert’s solos was his singing of “Grosser Herr, o starker Koenig” (“Mighty Lord, O strongest sovereign”).

Also outstanding was the duet between soprano Melanie Downie Zupan and Herbert in “Herr, dein Mitleid, dein Erbarmen” (“Lord, thy mercy, thy forgiveness”) in which they achieved a matched vocal quality that supported the words perfectly.

Nelson showed a lot of agility in his conducting. His quick tempos had a dance-like ambience and his slower tempos never bogged down. The music stayed lively and enhanced the evening with some much needed warmth for everyone who had to leave and brave the cold once more.

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