Friday, December 26, 2014

Bach Cantata Choir raises spirits with its Annual Holiday Baroque Concert

You have to take this report on the Bach Cantata Choir’s Annual Holiday Baroque Concert with a grain of salt because I’m a member of the choir's tenor section, but I have to say that this concert (held on Friday, December 19th at Rose City Park Presbyterian Church) was very satisfying in many ways. First of all the choir and orchestra performed Parts 2 and 4 of Bach’s “Christmas Oratorio” with genuine feeling and confidence. Since we have performed this music in previous years, we are a lot more comfortable and consequently are getting out of the scores, looking at our conductor, Ralph Nelson, and interpreting the music. The “Ehre sie Gott in der Höhe” (“Glory to God in the highest”) chorus, which is very tricky and demanding, flew by at a quick, pace that expressed a heightened sense of joy.

Soprano Nan Haemer, alto Irene Weldon, and Kevin Walsh distinguished themselves with excellent solo work. But tenor soloist Byron Wright stole the spotlight with phenomenal singing of “Frohe Hirten, eilt, ach eilet” (Joyful shepherds, haste, ah hasten”), which has an incredible stream of 32nd notes. It should be noted, though that Haemer and soprano Dorothea Gauer Lail excelled in the echo aria “Flösst, mein Heiland” (“Oh my Savior”) and Jolanda Frischknecht put a bell-like tone on “Fürchtet euch nicht” (“Be not afraid”).

For the second half of the concert, the choir and orchestra performed Marc-Antoine Charpentier’s “Messe de Minuet pour Noël” (“Midnight Mass for Christmas”). This piece, with its dance-like qualities, featured a number of treacherous tempo changes. We negotiated all of them pretty well, except one, which took a couple of measures before everyone lined up. Sopranos Laurie Vischer and Dorothea Gauer Lail, alto Rachel Thomas, tenors David Foley and Brian Haskins, and bass Paul Sadilek successfully negotiated their solos. It was unfortunate that some of the passages for the alto were so low, because it was difficult to hear Thomas when she had to sing those basement notes. Mary Kusaka, Laurie Vischer, and Paula Holm Jensen did a fine job with their carol selections.

The choir tried something different this year, opening the concert with the main church lights turned off and using flickering light from hand-held candles (battery operated), and singing the chant “Puer Natus in Bethlehem” (“A boy is born in Bethlehem”) from memory while walking from the nave of the church to the stage. We did alright but another rehearsal would have made it more aligned and smoother. Our rendition of Michael Praetorius’s version of “Puer Natus in Bethlehem” (performed with all of the lights turned on) went quite well. It should be noted that we used our candles to end the concert (with the “Agnus Dei” of the Charpentier), and that was a splendid wrap.

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