domingo, abril 26, 2015

Bach and Händel, the Baroque in its fullness

            The Mozarteum Argentino has begun its season at the Colón with the triumphant visit of the Bachakademie Stuttgart.  They are old friends of our city, for they came under Helmuth Rilling no less than three times, and are recognised as being among the best Baroque specialists in the world, even if they aren´t completely historicist.

            They are made up of two sterling ensembles: the Gächinger Kantorei, stunning choir that takes its name from a small city near Stuttgart, and the Bach-Collegium, a crack group of players. Only three years ago, the almost octogenarian Rilling took leave of our public with Bach´s enormous Mass in B minor. Now they came with the same marvelous score and with Hans-Christoph Rademann (debut here) as the successor of the aged wise man that did the feat of recording the totality of the extant Bach sacred cantatas. And for the second cycle they gave their interpretation of Händel´s "Messiah".

            I am of two minds about their choice of the most famous mass and oratorio of Baroque times. On the one hand, obviously to have them done by such splendid groups is quite attractive. But on the other, they could have been splendid in materials that are less often done, though well-known.  And I don´t forget that Festivales Musicales´ swan song last year was Bach´s Mass under Mario Videla, a disciple of Rilling and our foremost Bachian.

            In successive visits a change came over Rilling in matters of Bachian speeds: at each visit his timings were shorter: the older expansive Bach (not Romantic, mind you, but ampler in breadth) became faster and more clipped. Rademann has now taken that trend a step further, doing some of the pieces as fast as they can possibly go. It is undoubtedly exciting, and the articulation of the choir is amazing, but there´s also a more objective feeling, less emotionally communicative.

            Curiously, I have marginally preferred his Händel to his Bach. But perhaps the general impression has also to do with what I felt about the vocal soloists: two of them were a good deal better in Händel. And there´s another factor: Rademann misjudged the acoustics for Bach when he put his soloists close to the Choir; in Händel he gave them their proper place upfront.

            The economics of this sort of tour almost always determine that the soloists are often not quite the best part of it. In this case I would grade their merit thus: first the tenor Sebastian Kohlhepp, who showed a fine line and beautiful tone in the "Benedictus" of the Mass (abetted by the admirable flutist Catarina Laske-Trier), and he sang his "Messiah" arias nicely. Then, soprano Johanna Winkel, who seemed slightly under wraps in Bach, sang beautifully in Händel, with luminous timbre.

            Third, bass-baritone Markus Eiche has an important voice but has trouble in controlling the vocal lines in Bach: the singer was too gruff in the "Quoniam".  In Händel he found his best form only in his last aria, where he was accompanied with stunning effect by the trumpet player.

            I was disappointed by the Norwegian mezzosoprano Ann Beth Solvang, whose gray and low-volume singing wasn´t up to par for such intensely emotional arias as the Agnus Dei of the Mass or "He was despised" in "Messiah". Comparisons are odious, but I kept remembering Marga Höffgen or Janet Baker. All the soloists made their local debut.

            Maestro Rademann showed knowledge and aplomb, even if he was at times too fast or missed the hushed drama of the "Crucifixus". I was surprised by his approach to that evergreen, the "Hallelujah"from "Messiah": it´s the first time that I have heard the beginning sung and played "pianissimo"; then, in gradually heightened terraces, he got to the splendor of the last minutes, crowned by the trumpets and timpani. Also, I especially liked the final Amen. And in Bach, the astonishing clarity of the fugal entries with his nonpareil choir, 31-strong. The Bach-Collegium is fine in all categories, and I only cavil at the rather lame solo of the concertino in the Mass.

            And now, I go on to the first of the  Academia Bach programme for this year, played and sung at their usual home, the Iglesia Metodista Central with its ideal acoustics. I am so very glad that the Academia has survived the demise of its "mother", Festivales Musicales. Now they are independent, and I wish them the best of luck: they are necessary, and this starting concert showed the Academy in fine shape.

            The music was all by Johann Sebastian. The lovely Concerto for oboe d´amore (a third lower than the oboe) is reconstructed from a Harpsichord Concerto and was played with great skill by Andrés Spiller. Then, the great motet (19 minutes) "Jesu, meine Freude", sung by the Grupo de Canto Coral under Néstor Andrenacci, with instrumental support; the choir did an excellent job.

            Finally, yet another Videla première, J.S.B.´s Cantata Nº 47, with an enormous and fantastic opening Chorus, an equally enormous soprano aria very cleanly sung by soprano Soledad de la Rosa with the obbligato violin of Oleg Pishenin , fine work from baritone Alejandro Meerapfel in a recitative and aria, and a final Chorale. The whole was done with fine technique and impulse by the choir and the Soloists of the Bach Academy, led with predictable enthusiasm and accuracy by Mario Videla.

For Buenos Aires Herald

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