miércoles, junio 15, 2016

From America and Germany two choirs and an orchestra

            In our ample and variegated musical life sometimes we get interesting visitors from places little known here and we get agreeable surprises. Such was the case recently, as  I had the acquaintance of the Capella Vocalis Reutlingen, The Memphis Second Presbyterian Church Choir and the St. Olaf Orchestra.
            The Bach Academy organized the presentation of the Reutlingen group as a non-subscription concert on Monday (not Saturday, their usual day) at the Central Methodist Church, the Academy´s venue for decades, with warm acoustics.  Reutlingen is a charming city at the Black Forest, south of Stuttgart and Tübingen. The Capella Vocalis was founded in 1992 by Eckhard Weyand and since 2012 it is directed by Christian Bonath. It is made up of children sopranos and contraltos and young tenors and basses.
            At home the choir is really big, 120-strong, but here they came as a chamber choir.  Germany has a great choral tradition, and the Reutlingen is a good example of it. They came in singing a lovely Italian Lauda (Medieval), "Alta Trinita beata", and after the concert they came out doing it again. The severe though beautiful programme was all sacred, except for the surprise of two Händel pieces sung by Jan Jerlitschka. And all German, apart from Charpentier´s "Stabat Mater for nuns", a spare Motet sung by only six voices and accompanied by organ (Bonath).
            It was interesting to hear an imaginative motet by a Bach that died before Johann Sebastian was born: Johann  Christoph (1604-73). Both in this and in the famous chorale from Cantata Nº 147 by J.S., "Jesu joy of men´s desiring", Mario Videla ("alma pater" of the Academy), collaborated at the organ. Mendelssohn´s command of counterpoint and fluid inspiration was evident in three scores: "Psalm 43" for double choir, a motet for four-voiced men´s chorus in Latin, and the "Three spiritual songs" concluding the concert.
            Two barely known XIXth century composers were represented by motets: Moritz Hauptmann and Bernhard Klein; well-wrought music from Romantics that assimilated the Baroque and Classicist traditions. A   nd J.S.Bach´s short and difficult motet "Lobet den Herrn" ("Praise the Lord), also with Videla. All this music was heard in accomplished interpretations that showed both the skill of the director and the fine discipline and pleasant voices of the choir.
            I was stunned by the participation of Jerlitschka, for he was born in 1998 and I have never heard before a boy soprano of that age; fact is he keeps the crystalline timbre of a child and he sang with fine line the beautiful Händel aria "Where´er you walk" from the oratorio "Semele" and the melodic sacred song "Süsse Stille, sanfte Quelle" ("Sweet silence, soft spring"), accompanied by Bonath.
            Unfortunately San Benito, a Neo-Romanic church, looks splendid but has terribly reverberant acoustics. We heard there a Johann Sebastian Bach programme called The Life of Christ with the Chancel Choir of the Second Presbyterian Church from Memphis, Tennessee, led by Gabriel Statom.
            As I read the listing of scores I thought it was enormously long; and three things happened: of many pieces of ABA structure we only heard A; others were cancelled (no announcement); and two works were eliminated wholly: Cantata Nº 4, "Christ lag in Todesbanden" ("Christ lay in Death´s bonds") and the "Ascension Oratorio" (called so  in the Bach catalogue, but really Cantata Nº 11); this was announced.
            The accompaniment wasn´t mentioned in the hand programme; but the parson told the audience that they were members of the National Symphony (about 15 players). This chamber choir is probably as big as that of Bach´s St. Thomas Church: 23 voices; but with two differences: the sopranos and contraltos were boys; and there was a more balanced  distribution than in this instance (8 sopranos, 8 contraltos, 3 tenors and 4 basses). A curiosity: one of the tenors was Maico Hsiao, a Taiwanese living in BA. The vocal soloists came from the choir, plus an Argentine, tenor Osvaldo Peroni as the Evangelist.
            We heard fragments of the Christmas Oratorio, the St.John Passion, the Easter Oratorio and Cantata Nº 140, wonderful and well-contrasted Bachian music. The brilliance of the chosen numbers of the oratorios was based on the first-rate playing of the trumpeters. As far as the acoustics permitted, Statom obtained good results from his assembled forces, with the sonorous voices of tenor Tucker Williams and bass Neil Sherouse in particular.
            The Mozarteum Midday Concerts moved for just one date to the Coliseo instead of the Gran Rex, and greatly gained due to much better acoustics (it would be nice if future cycles could be done there). Once again the USA university orchestras amazed by their quality: the St.Olaf Orchestra of the homonymous college depends on the University of the Lutheran Evangelical Church in Minnesota and is more than centenarian (founded in 1908). Splendidly conducted by Steven Amundson for the last thirty years, it is big (92 players) and all sectors proved their worth in an attractive programme.
            After a homage to Ginastera (the powerful second movement from his Pampeana Nº3) we heard valuable and rarely heard USA music: three parts  of the Suite from the opera "The Tender Land", a prime example of his "prairie style"; and Barber´s closely argued and dramatic "Second Essay". Then, Ravel´s extra-difficult "Tzigane" was played well by Francesca Anderegg. The rousing Overture from Bernstein´s "West Side Story" was the fitting end.

For Buenos Aires Herald