Tuesday, March 26, 2013

“Truth and beauty” – CONCORA Sings BACH

Here’s the review from the Hartford Courant of yesterday’s all-Bach concert by CONCORA and the Hartford Symphony Orchestra:

The remarkable annual Bach concert featuring CONCORA (Connecticut Choral Artists) and members of the Hartford Symphony combined truth and beauty in a Sunday afternoon concert at the Immanuel Congregational Church. It began with two works of Bach that featured prominent flute writing: the “Missa Brevis in A Major” (BWV 234), and Cantata 151 “Süsser Trost, mein Jesus kömtt.”

Bach treated flutes almost like singers in the “A Major Mass;” they even got their own entrances in the otherwise vocal fugue entries of the “Christe.” Hartford Symphony flute players Grieg Shearer and Barbara Hopkins produced a color of sound very much like singing, and CONCORA, in turn, shaped their text and vocal lines to sound flute-like.

The “Gloria in excelsis” was a particularly fine example of Baroque music that is constructed like elaborate clockwork in which fast bouncy music was systematically interrupted by slower moving dance music. Conductor Richard Coffey allowed these alternations of attitude to rub against one another, and helped to blur the boundaries between them.

The annual CONCORA Bach concert always contains a diverse and pleasing palette of vocal soloists. Within the Bach style these solos require careful musicianship and an inward intensity that can be surprisingly intimate, even within the big resounding spaces of the Immanuel.

Soprano Jennifer Ferrand-Kelly was soloist in the opening movement of Cantata 151 “Süsser Trost (Sweet Comfort).” She demonstrated excellent breath control and navigated the series of long notes and elegant curving figures while shaping phrases with strong musical intelligence. Bass Marques Jerrell Ruff also stood out even in the brief recitative from Cantata 151 in which he was soloist, but even more so at the conclusion to Cantata 70 where his recitative about the collapsing of the world was given an agitated and fearful tone. He shifted effortlessly into lyrical mode for the aria that followed it. His voice had power, clarity, and brilliant shades of color.

Tenor Mark Child sang three recitatives during the cantatas and made their high tessitura seem natural and musical. Bass Steven Fasano, Soprano Lisa Nappi, and mezzo-soprano Salli-Jo Bordon shaped the central music of the “A Major Mass.” Mezzo-sopranos Cynthia Mellon and Pamela Johnson, Soprano Christine Laird, and tenor Jeffrey Soto also contributed strong efforts in this performance.

After intermission we were soloists too, sort of. “There is a theory in the works of J. S. Bach,” said Coffey from the podium, “that when chorales came along within cantatas that the congregation sang.” He asked us to sing the first of the two chorales in Cantata 70 and the music was inserted into each program. Coffey allowed us to hear the music sung by the choir, and then we rehearsed by singing it, (in German!) along with them. The CONCORA audience sounded much better than most congregational singing, and Coffey seemed to agree. After the chorale he turned toward the audience and gave us two thumbs up.

Cantata 70 gives very direct advice even within its title: “Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet! (Watch! Pray! Pray! Watch).” The music within the cantata oscillates between expressing a fear for the end of the world, and hopes to be among the saved at that time. The opening chorus sounded almost like a Brandenburg Concerto with its high trumpet. The chorus lifted its lines to reveal the fascinating larger rhythmic groupings that guide this music.

“Truth and Beauty” were sounded in abundance in the Immanuel Congregational Church.

“CONCORA, HSO Find Beauty In Bach”
Jeffrey Johnson
The Hartford Courant, March 26, 2013

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