Chorus leaves audience wanting more

Chorus leaves audience wanting more

Salisbury Singers give impressive holiday concert

By John Zeugner
November 14th, 2010

The Salisbury Singers fashioned an impressive early jump on the holiday season last night with a concert titled “The Brilliance of Bach.” Music Director Michelle Graveline ingeniously found a way to pack her 81 singers into the front of the sanctuary of Trinity Lutheran Church and still provide room for the dozen musicians of The Bach Consort of Worcester as accompaniment, with Lynne LaComfora on the harpsichord.

The enormous, vaulted vertical space of the church posed some acoustic challenges for this concert celebrating the 325th anniversary of Bach’s birth, but nonetheless was an impressive vessel for the joyous monumentality of the music.

The opening Motet, “Lobet den Herrn” was probably written as a singing accompaniment to the choir’s slow-walking entrance, a kind of prelude to the formal cantata that Bach, incredibly, generated weekly for his church’s Sunday services. Under Graveline’s always exacting and precise command the piece served as a brilliant warmup for both chorus and audience to adjust to the sound-spaces of Trinity Lutheran. The conclusion was a superbly rendered spiraling “Alleluia!” displaying the chorus’s articulation and space-filling power.

The second selection featured Trinity organist John Weit, above and behind the large audience, at the church’s massive organ. He played the “Organ Chorale Prelude: Nun Komm Der Heiden Heiland,” BWV 659, a stately and complex piece with strong resonances from Dietrich Buxtehude, as well as monastic plainsong. The organ’s power from the back of the church seemed a perfect rejoinder to the chorus’s opening thunder from the church’s front. It was a dizzying illustration of Bach’s unbelievable facility spinning music effects.

Bach’s cantata for the first Sunday of Advent, the actual “Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland,” BWV 62, concluded the first half of the concert. It began with a wonderfully realized chamber orchestra string prelude, followed by the chorus’s stout enunciation of the Savior’s birth and subsequent worship of the Lord.

The next four movements were handled by soloists accompanied by the Bach Consort, with the chorus silent. The splendid, extensive program notes were invaluable in grasping the cantata, with full text in German and translations provided. Tenor Stanley Wilson precisely articulated the 2nd movement’s celebration of the miracle of Christ’s birth, with, occasionally, Wilson sacrificing heft for enunciation. The orchestral support was spacious and fluent. Bass-Baritone Steven Small capably threaded through the third movement recitative and deftly, if quietly, delivered the 4th movement aria, “Streite, siege, starker Held.” Soprano Elisabeth Gondek was joined by Margaret Tartaglia, mezzo-soprano, for the joint recitative 5th movement, and then the chorus wound things up with a majestic, vault-filling “Praise be to God the Father … for ever and in eternity!” One longed to hear more from the chorus, a desire partially fulfilled in the concert’s second half.

After the intermission Graveline took up Bach’s familiar cantata BWV 140, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme,” – “Awake, the watchmen call to us …” with interior movements detailing the brides awaiting-their-bridegroom story strangely spliced in. The chorus handles the 1st, 4th (tenors only) and final 7th movement. Soloists handle the rest culminating in stirring 3rd and 6th movement duets by Small and Gondek. The first duet was preceded by a violin solo masterfully rendered by Peter Sulski. The second duet featured accompaniment from the Bach Consort’s spot-on woodwind section. But it was the chorus that thrilled the audience, especially in the conclusion, lushly thundering out Bach’s familiar hymn music that pulled the audience into a standing ovation. It did seem the talented chorus was a bit short-changed. One longed to hear more from them. Doubtless Graveline, a thoughtful classicist, wanted to keep her various elements balanced, and faithful to Bach’s directives, but as the sublime comic Zero Mostel asserted: “When you’ve got it, baby, flaunt it. Flaunt it!” The Salisbury Singers clearly have got it. Next time, let them dominate.

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