Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Ann Marie Liss, Barbara Hamilton, Basil Vendrys, Claude Debussy, Edward Elgar, George Frederick Handel, Josef Haydn, Marjorie Bunday, Maurice Duruflé, Olivier Messiaen, Ralph Valentine, Robert Avrett, St. Andrew's Choir, St. John 's Choir, Stephen Tappe, Timothy Krueger
Saturday evening, November 2, I attended a concert at St. John’s Cathedral at 14th Street and Washington in Denver. It featured some of the best musical organizations in Denver: the St. John’s Cathedral Choir, with Stephen Tappe, Choirmaster; St. Andrew’s Choir, Timothy Krueger, Choirmaster; Ann Marie Liss, harpist; and the region’s well-known Colorado Chamber Players, Barbara Hamilton, Executive Director, and violist. I emphasize that these are all stellar musicians.
The concert opened with a performance of Olivier Messiaen’s (1908-1992) famous organ work, Vision of the Eternal Church (Apparition de l’église eternelle) which was written in 1932. It was performed by Ralph Valentine, who is the organist at St. Andrews in Denver. Valentine is a teacher and an organist, well known throughout the United States. He began his teaching career at Rosemary Hall School in Greenwich, Connecticut, and moved with the school to Wallingford, Connecticut, when it merged with The Choate School in 1971. At Choate Rosemary Hall he was Head of Music, Choral Director, School Organist, and Instructor in Theory, Harmony, Counterpoint, History, Composition, Organ, and Harpsichord for forty-two years. He has been very active as a recitalist, composer, and leader of workshops.
This was a riveting performance of a very intense piece of music, which certainly demonstrates Messiaen’s Roman Catholic inspiration in an almost mystical way. That statement, of course, seems almost contradictory, but this composition is full of rhythmic tension and harmonic tension, with open fourths and fifths. It is a very dense piece with thick textures, some of which recall the harmonies of medieval chant with its parallelisms, which were considered consonants. Its mood also makes one think of the huge cathedrals that are characteristic in many countries of Europe. It was a wonderful performance that clearly revealed Messiaen’s inspiration.
The next work on the program was Zadok the Priest, a coronation anthem which was written for George II of Great Britain in 1727. Written by George Frederick Handel (1685-1759), I’m sure many in the audience recognized this work, because it has been sung for almost every coronation since it was written. The collaboration with the Colorado Chamber Players produced a small chamber orchestra which was a perfect size for this kind of performance. The choirs and the orchestra, which were thoroughly prepared for this performance, at once gave a demonstration in contrasts of the intricate and elegant style of Handel, while showing his skill at composition for huge ceremonies, with brazen outbursts from the trumpets. But it was in this work that a detriment in this program raised its ugly head: acoustics.
In most of the performances that I have attended at St. John’s Cathedral, the performers have been seated in the Crossing (that is the official name of the area) which is immediately in front of the Apse. The Apse is the U-shaped area at the front of the church that contains the Altar, and it is surrounded, at St. John’s Cathedral, by an area called the Ambulatory. The Ambulatory contains the organ keyboard and the seats for the choir which surround the Altar. The seating follows the U-shaped Ambulatory. Therefore, sections of the choir are facing each other. The Colorado Chamber Players was seated at the base of the U-shape, facing the congregation – or in this case, the audience. That meant that the sound of the choirs was echoing off opposite walls of the Apse, while being combined with the chamber orchestra. I’m not sure how many choir members there were at the performance, but there were fourteen members of the chamber orchestra. This may have been too large a group of musicians to put in the Crossing, but it is in the Crossing where the sound produced would not have ricocheted off the narrow walls of the Apse.
I point out that since the organ pipes are in the rear of the church above the Narthex, organ performances are not affected by the acoustics in the front of the church. In the performance of Handel’s Zadok the Priest, the acoustics made the sounds of these excellent musicians muffled and mushy. The diction of the choirs, and I remind you these are excellent choirs, could not be understood at all. Sometimes the orchestra overpowered the choirs, and sometimes the choirs overpowered the orchestra.
Next on the program, came Danses Sacrée et Profane, written by Claude Debussy (1862-1918). Debussy wrote this work as a commission from the Pleyel piano and harp manufacturer in Paris. They had just built a new chromatic harp, which was different from the conventional concert harp with its seven pedals and huge size. It also took a very long time to tune. The new harp had added strings for the chromatic half steps in the scale. As a matter of fact, it could vaguely be considered similar to Bach’s use of Pythagoras’ theories of ratio in tuning the harpsichord to equal temperament wherein, for example, the note ‘A’ can be played in the key of A major, F major, D major, etc., without having to tune the harpsichord between each key.
Debussy’s work became a very important contribution to harp literature, and I must say that it was a joy to hear, for even though it is quite popular for a small chamber orchestra and harp, it has been sometime since I have heard the piece performed live.
Dr. Ann Marie Liss performed on the harp Saturday evening. She has performed worldwide, and is on the faculty at Colorado College. She earned her doctorate at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris. She has won many international competitions, and is widely sought out as an instructor, coach, and clinician, specializing in technical foundation, tone production, and brain integration in musical performance. She is a founding member with Basil Vendrys, who is the principal violist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, in Duo Esprit which appears frequently in concert.
The opening of this work by Debussy has always struck me as being very un-Debussy-like, because of its unison strings, but soon the harp enters and it plays typical thick textured Debussy chords. Dr. Liss was absolutely wonderful and her performance of this piece, and so was the Colorado Chamber Players. Their unison string playing against the rich harmonies provided by the harp was absolutely spectacular, and it was interesting to note the difference in sound between the harp and strings, when the strings played pizzicato. I, for one, have never been able to make much of a distinction between the sacred and the profane concept that Debussy must have had in mind. To me, this is simply another beautiful piece that Debussy wrote around the turn-of-the-century.
But, once again the strange acoustics left their mark in the way of attacks and releases which were not sharp and well-defined.
Following the Debussy, the Colorado Chamber Players performed a Haydn quartet that is rarely performed. It is the last of six quartets that comprise Haydn’s Opus 33, and it carries the Hoboken number Hob. III:42. Thus, its official name is String Quartet Op. 33, Nr. 6 in D major, Hob. III:42. Anthony van Hoboken was the musicologist who created the catalog of Haydn’s works. These six quartets were the first Haydn had written in ten years, and he wanted to earn more money by selling manuscript copies, even though these had been published by Artaria, I believe, in 1782. In order to sell them, Haydn proclaimed them to be “brand-new” (which, of course, they were), but some scholars have insisted that this meant that these quartets contained a new style, which is not the case. They are simply wonderful, absolutely delightful quartets that are rarely played.
The Colorado Chamber Players, in my opinion, have a special ability at performing Haydn. It is absolutely marvelous, and they convince me that the Haydn quartets should be played just as often as the Mozart quartets, which, unfortunately, they don’t seem to be. The musicians Saturday night were superb as always, and their spirit and approach to the interpretation of Haydn could not have been better. However, their hard work and enthusiasm for what they were doing was marred by the troublesome acoustics. Some of their sounds were so distorted, that they became almost “electronic” in nature, with a flat and whining buzz. The Apse of the church seemed not to be able to handle the different quality of sound between violin, viola, and cello, with the sounds ricocheting off the narrow enclosure.
Before intermission, the choirs sang a beautiful work, They are at rest, by Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934), which he composed for the anniversary of Queen Victoria’s death. It is a striking piece with rich harmonies and a genuinely contemplative mood. And that is precisely the way it was performed.
The major work on Saturday evening’s concert was the Requiem by French composer Maurice Duruflé (1902- 1986). Duruflé was an outstanding organist and composer who, like César Franck, was not very prolific. However, Duruflé, again like Franck, is known for a small number of truly fine compositions. The Requiem is probably his best known work. It seems to be a mix of harmonies coming from Fauré and Ravel, and yet blended with the modal harmonies of the Renaissance. It is interesting to note that in this mass for the dead, he omits the Dies Irae and the Tuba Mirum, which is exactly what Gabriel Fauré omitted from his Requiem, prompting the often acid tongued Camille Saint-Saëns to call Fauré’s Requiem “One of the finest nocturnes ever written.” (The Dies Irae carries the warning that one must “live piously,” or face the wrath of God upon one’s death. The Tuba Mirum announces that the Day of Judgment is at hand, and that there is no reprieve for those who have not lived piously. Mozart, Berlioz, Verdi, and Gouvy, wrote some stunning music to fit these two sections of the requiem masses that they composed.)
Duruflé’s Requiem is an absolutely beautiful piece that deserves to be performed more often than it is. The performance clearly demonstrated the dedication and musicianship of those in the choir and orchestra, but also Timothy Krueger and Stephen Tappe, who prepared the choirs. The alto and baritone soloists, Marjorie Bunday and Robert Avrett, both of whom I have written about previously, were superb. And again, that brings me to a point about the acoustics. Both Bunday and Avrett stood just outside the arch of the Apse of the church, at the front edge of the Crossing. Therefore, their wonderful voices were un-muffled and clear. Every word they sang could be understood, because their consummate vocal production allows them to deal with the rigors of the dictation. However, the diction of these two choirs, which is normally excellent, could not be understood because of the sound bouncing around inside the Apse. Sometimes they drowned out the orchestra, and sometimes the orchestra drowned out the choir. Did the choirs have superb sound quality? Emphatically, yes. Were their dynamics excellent? Again, emphatically, yes. Everybody performing Saturday evening clearly has superb musicianship.
It speaks to that quality to say that the musicianship was apparent in spite of the acoustics. And, I am perfectly aware that fitting the chamber orchestra and the choirs in the Crossing of the church in front of the Apse, would have been difficult because of the number of musicians involved. But perhaps for performances such as this, the powers that be at St. John’s Cathedral could figure out a way to make the Crossing a little larger, perhaps by taking out the first row or two of pews just for a singular performance. I understand that would mean extra work and cost, but when such a marvelous program is presented, as it was Saturday evening, it would be worth it. Nonetheless, in spite of my criticism which some may regard as too heavy, it was a superb program. It gave everyone in the audience a chance to hear some compositions they might not hear for a long time.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Barbara Hamilton, Carole Whitney, Chris Maunu, Derek Chester, Elise Greenwood Bahr, Gloria Choi, Heejung Kim, James Kim, Kenrick Mervine, Laura Chester, Lisa Brende Martin, Margaret Miller, Margaret Soper Gutierrez, Marjorie Bunday, Nathan Payant, Steven Soph, Stuart Dameron, Susan Hochmiller, Tara U'Ren
Sunday afternoon I attended a concert of Bach cantatas presented by the Colorado Bach Ensemble supplemented by the Colorado Chamber Players, as their opening concert for their second season. As I said before, this is a new ensemble in Colorado, and they have given some world-class performances prior to this concert. Sunday’s performance was presented at Bethany Lutheran Church in Cherry Hills. This was world-class also.
Lest you have forgotten, I will refresh your memory concerning Dr. James Kim, who is the founder of the Colorado Bach Ensemble, by quoting a bio statement from a program:
“James Kim is currently the Director of Choral Activities at Colorado State University. The choirs under his direction have appeared at numerous national and international conventions and festivals including the ACDA, NCCO, Aspen Music Festival, and Steamboat Springs Strings Festivals. Most recently, in 2011, CSU hosted the National Collegiate Choral Organization’s 4th biennial conference. CSU Chamber Choir was featured throughout the conference under the direction of Helmuth Rilling rehearsing and performing the two motets, Singet dem Herrn, Jesu meine Freude, and the Magnificat by Bach.
“James Kim spent 2 years in Stuttgart, Germany from 1997-1999 studying the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. After returning to the US, the passion and dedication to promote the music of J.S. Bach to American audience on a professional level have been the focus of his musical endeavors. He is committed and most excited to bring Bach’s music vividly to the audience in Colorado.”
Dr. Kim made it very clear Sunday afternoon that he does not just appreciate Bach, he knows and understands Bach. What could I possibly mean by such a statement? Doesn’t every conductor know Bach? The simple answer is “No.” For example, I own a recording of J. S. Bach’s magnificent cantata, Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140. It has world renowned performers, conductor, choir, and orchestra. It could be due to the fact that this is a digitally remastered recording which was originally done in 1962, but its proportions sound huge: huge choir, huge orchestra, etc. Though this recording was produced in Germany, it fits the American philosophy of “Bigger is better.” Often, there is usually nothing terribly wrong in that belief, but wouldn’t it be nice if the cliché was “Authentic is better?”
The simple truth is that Bach did not have at his disposal a huge orchestra and a huge choir. Keep in mind that his cantatas were written for church services, and not for concerts. Maestro James Kim is aware of that, and that is what gives him the advantage over other conductors: he has the stamina and courage to perform Bach as authentically as he knows how. And, he knows a great deal about Bach. In addition, he feels the artistic necessity to perform Bach accurately. After this concert was over, I had a very interesting conversation with the wife of one of the performers. She used the word “intimate,” and that is the very precise word to describe the Bach performances that are conducted by Maestro James Kim. I had the very distinct feeling at this concert that the three of Bach’s cantatas that were performed on Sunday, Nun komm der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61, Vergnügte Ruh, BWV 170, and Christ lag in Todesbanden, BWV 4, were being performed just for me. It was that intimate.
The Colorado Bach Ensemble opened the program with one of Bach’s most well-known cantatas, Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland, BWV 61. There were two cantatas written by Bach utilizing Martin Luther’s Advent hymn, “Come now, Savior of the heathen.” The present work, BWV 61, was written in 1714. The second, BWV 62, was written in 1724 and was given its first performance in Leipzig on December 3 of that year. (BWV is the abbreviation for Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis, the thematic catalogue of Bach’s works organized by Wolfgang Schmieder (1909-1990).
Dr. Kim always surprises me with his completely relaxed posture on the podium, but it is also apparent that he is closely watching the musicians in front of him, and that he is in command of the situation. But even that statement, while true, seems overstated simply because he constantly gives the musicians their chance to prove that they know the composer being performed. I would truly like to attend one of his rehearsals, because I suspect there is quite a lengthy verbal explanation of his concept of the score and how it should be performed. He has infinite trust in their ability to remember what was said at all of the rehearsals, and I have never heard a performance where they have let him down. Such is the mutual exchange between everyone on stage. They are constantly listening to each other very carefully while watching Maestro Kim. The result is a graceful flow of the music, combined with the necessary rhythmic pulse generated by Bach’s counterpoint.
The vocal soloists in Sunday’s performance were Susan Hochmiller, soprano; Marjorie Bunday, contralto, Derek Chester and Stephen Soph, tenors; and Stuart Dameron, bass. In addition to the soloists, who also sang in the choir, the other members of the choir were Elise Greenwood Bahr and Laura Chester, sopranos; Gloria Choi and Tara U’Ren, contralto; Chris Maunu and Nathan Payant, basses.
Members of the orchestra were Margaret Soper Gutierrez and Heejung Kim, violin; Barbara Hamilton and Margaret Miller, viola; Carole Whitney, cello; Lisa Brende Martin, oboe d’amore; and Kenrick Mervine, keyboard.
I would like to make two points here: notice how small this group is. It does not take a huge choir and orchestra to have an absolutely sensational performance, as this one was. And, point two: Dr. Kim has surrounded himself with some of the best musicians in the state of Colorado, and all of them just happen to be some of the best musicians in the United States. For example, in the cantata BWV 61, Bach requires pizzicato in Section 4, as the bass soloist sings the voice of Christ, and states, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock.” The pizzicato was perfectly together dynamically and rhythmically. There was no raggedness.
Another point that I would like to make is a surprising one, but it underscores why the Colorado Bach Ensemble and the Colorado Chamber Players are so outstanding. All of the musicians, be they vocalists or instrumentalists, are so truly superior that it is impossible to say that Susan Hochmiller was better than Marjorie Bunday, or that Margaret Soper Gutierrez is better than Heejung Kim. All of you readers should take note that James Kim has surrounded himself with a group of outstanding musicians, and their combined excellence made it possible for this exceptional concert. I will also add that Kenrick Mervine and Carole Whitney were superb in their performance of the continuo. They did not just play through it mechanically: they made genuine music as a part of the ensemble.
In 1723, Bach began to compose cantatas at a surprising rate, because he had just been appointed the Cantor in Leipzig. The job required that he compose a cantata for every Sunday and every special feast day of the liturgical year. The next cantata that the Colorado Bach Ensemble performed, Vergnügte Ruh, BWV 170, is, I think, one of the outstanding cantatas of this period. The opening aria, “Delightful rest, beloved pleasure of the soul,” is a wonderful cantilena which was beautfully sung by Marjorie Bunday. She, and Maestro Kim, simply let the music speak for itself in its gently swaying motion, and both seemed to be under the spell of Bach’s lyricism. The final aria was undeniably joyful and rhythmically driven.
The third cantata that was performed on Sunday was another of Bach’s most well-known: Christ lag in Todesbanden. This is an early cantata, perhaps written in 1707 or 1708. Bach certainly revised it after he arrived in Leipzig some years later. I would urge you readers to get a recording of this cantata because Bach’s method of composing it is quite obvious: it uses the Luther hymn as a cantus firmus. He also uses this composition method in a later cantata, the aforementioned Wachet auf, BWV 140. These two cantatas are really quite dissimilar except for that one compositional feature, but comparing these two cantatas can be a lesson in learning how to listen to these magnificent works. The vocal soloists in the performance of this cantata were outstanding and displayed remarkably similar musicianship. The chorus was amazingly expressive, but maintained their relaxed demeanor. And that really underscores what I mentioned above: equal musicianship amongst everyone on stage, and equal musical ability. The instrumentalists from the Colorado Chamber Players are always exhilarating to listen to and combined with the vocalists produced one of the best performances of the Bach cantatas that I have heard in at least fifty years. The performance was authentic, while, all the time exposing Bach’s incredible contrapuntal ability. Bach’s counterpoint evolves harmonically, but each voice takes on an incredible independence that becomes startling. Before Bach, Palestrina was the eminent composer of counterpoint, but it was Bach who brought it back to life and made it a modern compositional technique for his time. There were composers of the future, Beethoven, for one, who wrote fine counterpoint, but no one used it to the extent that Bach did, and he remains unmatched.
I am inclined to ask you readers how many times you have heard three cantatas performed live. It was a rare treat to hear these cantatas in a row so superbly performed by absolutely everyone on stage. It was stunning.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adriana Contino, Chrstipher Maunu, Clara Rottsolk, Cobus Du Toit, Colorado Bach Ensemble, Cynthia Henning, Daekwang Kim, Dann Coakwell, David Kim, Elise Greenwood Bahr, Eric Jurenas, Gene Stenger, James Kim, Joshua Ooms, Kenrick Mervine, Margaret Soper Gutierrez, Marjorie Bunday, Mary Artmann, Matt Sommer, Michelle Stanley, Nicole Lamartine, Paul Max Tipton, Steven Soph, Stuart Dameron
Every performing musician who goes out on stage to expose an audience to incredible music has his or her own “Opus Ultimum,” to borrow that term from Daniel Leeson. It doesn’t matter if the musician is a conductor, a pianist, or a vocalist: It is a piece of music that he or she strives to do, but only when he or she knows that the moment in their performing life has arrived. For pianists, it may be Liszt’s Sonata in B minor; for cellists, it may be Kodály’s Sonata for Unaccompanied Cello; or, for a conductor, it may be Mahler’s Eighth Symphony, which requires an orchestra of 200, and a choir of 800. For a Heldentenor, it may be Parsifal, by Wagner.
For Dr. James Kim, it is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach. Notice that I did not mention a particular work. Dr. Kim is on his way to perform all of the important choral works of this remarkable composer, and he has even established a basic choir and orchestra in which to complete this monumental pursuit: the Colorado Bach Ensemble. You readers who love music, but have never performed or even been trained in music, must understand the amount of preparation that goes into learning a piece such as the Zoltán Kodály Cello Sonata. It takes a great deal of musical maturity as well as knowledge of the composer, and even the period of his life when he composed the piece. When one conducts a work such as the St. Matthew Passion, one must have an understanding of the work and performance at several different levels: 1) one must understand Bach’s deep religious beliefs, 2) one must study the score of this three-hour piece, and decide how best to bring out the intricate counterpoint that infuse all of J.S. Bach’s works, 3) one must be familiar with, and know soloists who are capable of singing the solo voice parts, 4) one must know orchestral musicians who have a similar dedication and understanding of the music, 5) one must be able to put together a choir which possesses the same thought process as the instrumentalists, 6) and on a more mundane level, one must have the funding available, or have the skill to put it all together, so that this huge work can be performed. One must also have the knowledge to understand all of the ramifications of a performance preparation, and have the stamina and courage to never stop asking questions of oneself concerning its readiness. And, finally, one has to have the self-knowledge concerning one’s own ability to communicate to soloists, orchestra, and choir, what has to be done.
Needless to say, this does not happen overnight.
I will begin with the orchestra. In the Baroque orchestra, one of the most important parts is called the continuo (literally, continuing throughout the piece). To make the definition of continuo fairly simple, it is a stenographic system in which bass notes are written, but intervals (notes) above those notes are indicated by numerical figures. For example, if the bass note is an E, and there is a number 6 written below that E, then the instrumentalists performing the continuo would play the note C. The continuo is usually played by organ or harpsichord plus a low string instrument, normally the cello. Sometimes the bassoon is added. In the St. Matthew Passion, there are two orchestras, therefore, two continuo players are required. Mary Artmann played continuo cello in Orchestra II. She is a superb cellist and has performed regularly with the Colorado Chamber Players. I have had the great pleasure of hearing her perform several times. The guest cellist was Adriana Contino. Ms. Contino “… Was professor of cello, Baroque cello, and chamber music at the Hochschule für Musik in Freiburg, Germany, where she taught and concertized from 1991 to . She moved back to the United States in 2011 and is teaching at the Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University in Bloomington.” I might point out that she comes from a very musical family, and that her mother, conductor Fiora Contino, also taught at the Indiana University School of Music, when I was a student there. Kenrick Mervine performed the organ continuo Saturday evening. He is the organist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, and was Instructor of Organ at Seton Hall University.
Other members of the orchestra of the Colorado Bach Ensemble come from orchestras around the state, and often play with the Colorado Chamber Players, the Boulder Chamber Orchestra, and the Colorado Symphony Orchestra. The Concertmaster of Orchestra I was Margaret Soper Gutierrez, who plays regularly with the Colorado Chamber Players. Concertmaster of Orchestra II was Dr. Hee-Jung Kim, who plays with the Fort Collins Symphony and the Cheyenne Symphony. Maestro James Kim has put together an absolutely outstanding group of musicians, which he truly has the ability to do.
The vocal soloists were tenor, Dann Coakwell, in the role of the Evangelist. This was his first appearance in Colorado, but he has sung throughout Europe and the United States, performing the Bach cantatas, the St. Matthew Passion, the St. John Passion, the Christmas Oratorio, and the Mass in B minor. The role of Jesus was sung by baritone Paul Max Tipton, who has appeared in Denver before this performance in Bach’s B minor Mass, which was the first performance given by the Colorado Bach ensemble. Clara Rottsolk sang the Soprano role. This was her first appearance in Colorado to the best of my knowledge. She teaches voice at Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr colleges. Eric Jurenas returned to Colorado to sing the Countertenor role in this Passion. I have heard him sing, and I have written about him before, and he still stuns the audience with his remarkable voice and musicianship. Steven Soph was the lead tenor in Saturday night’s performance, and he performs throughout the United States, and is a member of several vocal ensembles including New York’s Musica Sacra and Miami’s Seraphic Fire. The baritone for Saturday’s performance was David Kim (no relation to Dr. James Kim, the conductor). He has one of the most astonishing bass-baritone voices that I have heard in some time, and he is completing his Doctorate of Musical Arts degree at the College Conservatory of Music in Cincinnati.
The above-mentioned soloists deserve more space than I am able to give them here. They were absolutely outstanding, and I might add that their voice quality fit, or matched, if you will, with each other as well as the roles which they were singing.
There were also some excellent soloists singing from the choir. Though some may consider these roles relatively minor, I hasten to point out that the soloists’ qualities were not minor by any stretch of the imagination. These individuals were Elise Greenwood Bahr, Pilate’s Wife; Marjorie Bunday, False Witness I; Gene Stenger, False Witness II; Stuart Dameron, Judas; Christopher Maunu, Peter; Cynthia Henning, Maid I; Nicole Lamartine, Maid II; Daekwang Kim, Pilate; Joshua Ooms, High Priest II; and Matt Sommer, High Priest I. I mention these individuals because they were all exceptional, and well-chosen by Maestro James Kim. In addition, it is a reflection of the careful consideration that Maestro Kim gave this entire performance. There is no question that absolutely nothing was left to chance.
As the St. Matthew Passion began to unfold at Saturday’s performance, the performance of everyone on stage became more and more stunning. This work is divided into sixty-eight sections, delineated by recitatives, chorales, and arias. Section 5 and Section 6, a recitative, and aria, are scored for the countertenor. I have heard Eric Jurenas sing before, as I stated above; however, he never ceases to amaze me with the clear quality of his voice. It is as if one can see through it, and, in addition, his diction is remarkable. In those same two sections, the flutes in Orchestra I, Michelle Stanley and Cobus du Toit, also excelled. I point out that these two musicians are absolutely superb, as was everyone in the orchestra.
In the recitativo of Section 12, the soprano, Clara Rottsolk is required to enter on a relatively high pitch with little, if any, indication from the orchestras. She entered exactly on pitch so effortlessly and so musically that it quite literally took my breath away. Section 19, the tenor solo was the first entrance of the evening for Stephen Soph. Once again, I was impressed by the power of his voice and in his following aria (Section 20) the bassoon and oboe were absolutely gorgeous. And, I must say that all of the instrumentalists in the orchestra played as if they were all performing their own solos, even though they were all tutti. Section 22 was the first entrance of David Kim, the bass-baritone. He took the stage with disarming casualness, but when he began to sing, those around me looked at each other in disbelief of the fullness and the quality of his sound. He absolutely filled the hall, and his voice had the same transparency and clearness as that of Eric Jurenas.
All of these soloists not only had amazing vocal production, but they sang with great emotion and musicality. It was clear that the impact of Bach’s writing was having an effect on their own emotions, thus making it easier for them to project the story to the audience. The choice of the soloists is a reflection on the thoroughness demonstrated by Maestro James Kim in paragraph two of this article. For example, in the St. Matthew Passion, as he did in the B minor Mass, Bach writes an entrance for the countertenor on a note that is of very long duration. On this note the countertenor must gradually increase from a pianissimo dynamic level to a solid forte. Eric Jurenas was absolutely stunning in his long crescendo. Maestro Kim has to be able to pick a countertenor that has the breath control to do that.
Dr. James Kim infused the entire performance, both orchestras and choirs, with an intensity that was noticeable and non-stop: it lasted for three solid hours. This is how this particular, and monumentally important, work by J.S. Bach should be heard. There have been many performances of the St. Matthew Passion done with enormous choirs, presumably because the conductor thinks that more is better. It is easy to suppose that those conductors think that a large choir will make the work more impressive. However, in the end, all it does is to hide Bach’s counterpoint and sophistication in an unintelligible wash of sound. It certainly is not the size of orchestras and choirs that Bach had in mind when he wrote the piece, or that he had available to him at the time.
In Section 39, violinist Margaret Soper Gutierrez performed a duet with countertenor, Eric Jurenas. Her playing was exquisite, and both performed as if it was an unusually instrumented miniature sonata. Both parts were of equal importance, and both of these musicians honored each other’s musicality and extraordinary gifts.
This same ambience was also manifest in Section 42, when violinist Hee-Jung Kim performed a duet with David Kim, the bass-baritone. Both musicians were absolutely stellar. And, if you can imagine this from a bass-baritone, his voice was light and airy, and matched the quality of spirit of the violin, even though it was lower in pitch.
This entire performance from beginning to end was filled with uncompromising musicianship. There are many moments when the two orchestras share contrapuntal moments that produce a conversation between Orchestra I and Orchestra II. One orchestra began a “sentence,” and the other orchestra would finish it with a sentence of its own, or little rhythmic jabs of startling precision. The clarity of Bach’s counterpoint, and his inherent and constant rhythmic drive and accentuation was always distinct and unmistakable in Saturday’s performance. It is what defines Bach, and there is no question that Maestro Kim used it to shape the intensity of the performance. Everyone on stage, the soloists, the orchestra musicians, and the musicians in the choir, were all exceptional. As I stated above, this is one of the most important compositions of Bach’s, as well as one of the most important in music literature, and it takes immense stamina and artistic courage. Maestro James Kim has a way of the leading these knowledgeable musicians into the inner-most spirit of Bach, and then, if that were not enough, he eagerly invites the audience to follow.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Alexander Grechaninov, Arvo Pärt, Daniel Hutchings, Eric Pultz, Kenneth Leighton, Marjorie Bunday, Max Reger, St. Martin's Chamber Choir, Taylor Martin, Timothy Krueger
St. Martin’s Chamber Choir, under the leadership of Timothy J. Krueger, gave their final performance of the season on Friday, June 7, at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral on Washington Street. I am enormously pleased to say that there was a very large audience for this final concert. And that is the way it should have been, for this is a very fine choral organization. Timothy Krueger is one of the best choral conductors in the state, and he has been performing incredibly fine concerts with this organization for almost twenty years. This concert also featured a marvellous organist, Eric Plutz, to accompany the choir, in addition to performing two organ solos.
Maestro Krueger and the choir opened the program with Solus ad Victimam, which is a relatively short work by Kenneth Leighton. I will quote briefly from Leighton’s bio statement which I obtained on the web:
“Kenneth Leighton [1929-1988] is one of the most distinguished of British post-war composers; over 100 compositions are published, many of which were written to commission, and his work is frequently performed and broadcast both in Britain and abroad.
“In 1947 he [attended] The Queen’s College, Oxford, on a Hastings Scholarship in Classics; in 1951 he graduated both BA in Classics, and BMus (having studied with Bernard Rose). In the same year he won the Mendelssohn Scholarship and went to Rome to study with Goffredo Petrassi.
“Kenneth Leighton was Professor of Theory at the Royal Marine School of Music 1952-1953, and Gregory Fellow in Music at the University of Leeds 1953-55. In 1955 he was appointed Lecturer in Music at the University of Edinburgh where he was made Senior Lecturer and then Reader. In 1968 he returned to Oxford as University Lecturer in Music and Fellow of Worcester College.
“In October 1970 he was appointed Reid Professor of Music at the University of Edinburgh, the post which he held until his death in 1988.”
Solus ad Victimam was written sometime in 1973, and that means that Leighton was showing his influence of serial technique. Harmonically, it is the organ part that seems to drive this anthem: the harmonic progression stated by the organ introduction appeared to me to be the identical harmonic progression stated by the choir in their opening. Keep in mind this is the first time I have heard this work, so that previous statement could be incorrect. But, I must say the minor seconds, in both organ and choir parts, emphasized the tragedy of the text, which was written by Peter Abelard (1079-1142). The text begins: “Alone to sacrifice thou goest, Lord, giving thyself to Death, whom thou hast slain.…” Kenneth Leighton certainly sets himself apart from other English composers in that he certainly shows his influence of twentieth century English composers (Walton and Vaughn Williams) while, in his later life, showing the influence of the second Viennese school. This was a beautiful piece in which the dynamic changes and the harmony was very skillfully conducted by Maestro Krueger to emphasize the text. Certainly, I am no conductor, but, it appeared to me, that one of the difficulties in such a short and very intense work as this would be for the choir to immediately “get into” the work and make it sound as if this was a huge piece of music. The performance was incredibly profound, and a perfect example of the preparation the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir always exhibits.
The second work on the program was also by Kenneth Leighton. It was entitled Crucifixus pro Nobis, with a text that could have been taken from a passion as well as a Stabat Mater. The text (by Phineas Fletcher [1582- 1650]) was very grim, and a very explicit description of Christ’s suffering upon the cross. Daniel Hutchings, who has recently arrived in Colorado from the San Francisco Bay area, was soloist in this work, and he was absolutely outstanding. I have heard him perform before, and he possesses a very strong lyric tenor with excellent diction and the ability not only to project above the choir, but to make that projection incredibly sensitive in keeping with the text.
Over the years, I have learned that when I attend concerts at St. John’s Cathedral, I must sit toward the front of the sanctuary. It is there that the acoustics are the best. However, the audience was so large at Friday’s performance that I could not find a seat in my usual preferred section, so I sat in the center of the hall. This made it a little difficult to understand some of the diction that I know the choir was exhibiting, for excellent diction is one of the trademarks of St. Martin’s Chamber Choir and the work that Timothy Krueger insists upon. I had no problem understanding Hutchings, but the blend of twenty-five voices in the choir overstepped, to a small degree, the acoustics.
This is an absolutely beautiful work, and the balance between Eric Plutz’ performance and the choir was perfect: but, make no mistake, the text of this piece and the expression given by the musicians, imbued one with a sense of being forsaken. I am quite sure that was the intention of Phineas Fletcher who wrote the text. The performance of this composition left me wondering how a conductor can coax the choir to focus so convincingly on a text that is so incredibly forlorn, and yet guide the performance into a work of beauty. I assure you that the choir and Maestro Timothy Krueger did just that. Its emotional impact was very similar to a choral work by Karl Jenkins, a Welsh composer who wrote a Mass using the theme “The Armed Man,” which is a popular tune from the fifteenth century used by many composers for a cantus firmus in motets and the Mass.
Following the second Leighton work, organist Eric Plutz performed his first solo of the evening: the Benedictus by Arvo Pärt. I will quote very briefly from my own article (June 2, 2012) concerning Arvo Pärt:
“…Arvo Pärt [born 1935] is widely known as a minimalist composer, and his work between the years 1977 to 1992 can be described as “holy minimalism” because of his immersion in Gregorian chant and early liturgical music. He further describes this sound as “tintinnabuli” because it often sounds like the ringing of bells. Some critics have gone so far as to describe Pärt as a Western Confucius because of his mysticism and liturgical leanings. Pärt found much inspiration in the Russian Orthodox Church, and was specifically influenced by his acquaintance with Archimandrite Sophrony, who was a disciple and biographer of St. Silouan. As a matter of fact, it was Father Sophrony who advised Pärt to stay the course and become a composer.”
And, concerning Eric Plutz:
“Eric Plutz is University Organist at Princeton University. There, his responsibilities include playing for weekly services at the Chapel, Academic Ceremonies, solo concerts and accompanying the Chapel Choir in services and concerts. He also coordinates the weekly After Noon Concert Series at the University Chapel. In addition, Mr. Plutz is rehearsal accompanist for the Westminster Symphonic Choir at Westminster Choir College of Rider University in Princeton, NJ. He is also Instructor of Organ at Princeton University and maintains a private studio of organ students.
“As an accompanist, Mr. Plutz has worked with many organizations, including Westminster Choir College of Rider University, National Symphony Orchestra, Choral Arts Society of Washington, Princeton Pro Musica, Washington Symphonic Brass, and the Washington Ballet. He has accompanied the Voices of Ascension conducted by Dennis Keene and has worked with conductors Leonard Slatkin, J. Reilly Lewis and Norman Scribner in various venues in the Washington area, including the National Gallery of Art, the Barns at Wolf Trap and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. He has also spent time in Paris researching the organ works of César Franck.”
Mr. Plutz performed the Annum per Annum by Arvo Pärt. This is one of four organ compositions which was written by Pärt for the 900th Anniversary Celebration for the Cathedral of Speyer in Germany. It is a beautiful work which was done beautifully. I do not know if Arvo Pärt allows the organist the opportunity to use his own registrations. I rather doubt it, for have heard this piece performed a few years ago, and the registrations sounded quite familiar. Eric Plutz is a very sensitive organist, which some individuals may think is difficult, because the organ does not respond in the same way that, for example, a piano does. However, it does respond to a certain degree to one’s keyboard touch, and certainly changes in dynamics. That left me wishing the piece were longer.
Following Mr. Plutz’ organ solo, the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir performed another work by Arvo Pärt, The Beatitudes. The Beatitudes a are set of teachings in Christianity that consist of two phrases each. The first phrase is a condition, and the second phrase is the result. For example, one of the Beatitudes reads “Blessed are they that mourn: for they shall be comforted.” One can easily see the two phrases (Do any of you recognize this beatitude? It is used by Brahms in his Requiem.) This work was conducted by Taylor Martin, who is the Mark Sheldon Memorial Fund Conducting Intern. It was remarkable watching him conduct, and there is no mistaking the fact that he will make a mark for himself. He is currently working on a Master’s Degree in conducting with Dr. Catherine Sailer at the University of Denver. His conducting a superb, and he is able to obtain whatever he wishes from the choir. And, most importantly, the choir responds willingly to his requests. It was a fine performance.
Following the intermission, Eric Plutz performed Max Reger’s Benedictus. Max Reger (1873-1916) is a composer whose remarkable worth far surpasses the number of his performances. Harmonically, he was influenced by Wagner, and yet compositionally, he was influenced by Bach. Thus, his works are extremely contrapuntal, and yet, very complex harmonically. Plutz’s performance of the Benedictus was exceptional. He imbued it with a pastorale-like quality. I am familiar with this piece, and I don’t recall hearing it done so sensitively. It is my hope that Eric Plutz will return to Denver in the near future to give a solo concert. If he does, all of you who read this must make a point to attend the concert.
The last work on the program was the Missa Festiva by Alexander Grechaninov (1864-1956. Please note that his last name can also be correctly transliterated Gretchaninov).
I will quote from a biographical statement that I found on the web concerning Grechaninov:
“Grechaninov composed over one thousand works, and his life spanned nearly an entire century, and almost spanned the globe from Russia, travelling to London and Italy, and emigrating to Paris and finally the USA. He was never interested in the avant-garde, and thought that modernists spent too much attention on the concrete materials of music. Whereas, in his own works, he wished to faithfully communicate his inner emotion to both performer and listener, so that when leaving the world he could be satisfied in saying ‘I have fulfilled my life’s task’. Some of his songs and sacred works, which are entrenched in the rich heritage of Russian folk song, became very popular, and he was subsequently awarded a pension by the Tsar. This stopped during the Revolutionary period, and at times he and his wife were close to starvation. Grechaninov was however considered something of a revolutionary himself, for daring to question the authority of the Holy Synod in the realms of sacred music. He believed that liturgical music should relate to the texts sung, and not be over embellished, and he actively promoted the use of instruments which the Holy Synod had previously banned.
“Grechaninov’s parents were deeply religious, and he was often taken to the shrines of Saints, even having to bite into the wooden coffin of St Sergius in order to cure toothache. Sacred music would prove to be of significant interest to Grechaninov, including his concerto for choir, Inspire, O Lord.
Through cheating in his school exams, Grechaninov would eventually be allowed to study music, firstly at the Moscow Conservatoire. However, he argued with his teacher Arensky, and left to study under Rimsky-Korsakov at the St Petersburg Conservatoire. Rimsky-Korsakov would not only be best man at Grechaninov’s wedding, but would also advocate the performance of a number of his student’s works, including the String Quartet Opus 2, which won a Belyayev prize.”
I would add to this biographical statement, that Grechaninov wrote some perfectly delightful piano pieces for children.
The Missa Festiva contains the portions of the ordinary of the mass, that is, the portions that do not change from Sunday to Sunday: the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus Benedictus, Agnus Dei. I have never heard this work before, and I was completely taken by surprise. It is astonishingly beautiful, and seems to have been written at a time when Grechaninov was starting to push the envelope harmonically. For example, it is certainly more adventurous in its use of dissonance than some of Grechaninov’s contemporaries. I cannot imagine that Rachmaninoff would have ever written anything that sounded like this work by Grechaninov. It was ethereal, and it was readily apparent that the members of the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir were strongly moved by this piece. Their singing evidenced great enthusiasm. The work was surprising because, in spite of its beauty, it is so seldom performed. In addition, it is composed in such a way that it could be used in the actual performance of a Mass. I would like to draw attention to the fact that Marjorie Bunday, a member of the alto section, had a marvelous solo. She is a perfect example of the quality of every singer in the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir. I was left stunned by this particular work and the excellence of its performance, and this is one of the reasons why the performances of the St. Martin’s Chamber Choir are so valuable.
Friday evening’s performance, again, demonstrated that we in Denver, and all of Colorado, are fortunate to have St. Martin’s Chamber Choir in residence here. Their enthusiasm for what they do always results in a fine performance, and the music they perform is often quite rare, and, therefore, always instructive. I wish they would perform all year around, and not just during the concert season. They are a joy.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Abigail Chapman, Carole Whitney, Chris Maunu, Colorado Bach Ensemble, David Schwartz, Gene Stenger, Heejung Kim, James Kim, Kenrick Mervine, Margaret Soper Gutierrez, Marjorie Bunday, Ysmael Reyes
What a remarkable bonus we all received as audience members at the chamber concert given Friday evening by the Colorado Bach Ensemble at St. John’s Episcopal Cathedral in Denver. The Colorado Bach Ensemble is a new organization led by a startlingly fine conductor, Dr. James Kim, who is on the music faculty at Colorado State University where he is Director of Choral Studies. A descriptive paragraph in the program notes outlines the goals of this new ensemble:
“Founded in 2012 by James Kim, the Colorado Bach Ensemble is a professional ensemble dedicated to promoting and advocating the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, especially his vocal masterworks, and his Baroque contemporaries. Our mission is to: 1) Study and perform the music of J.S. Bach’s music to the highest artistic standard, performing with modern instruments and yet embodying the spirit and grace of Baroque style, 2) Grow the audience for the music of J.S. Bach through concerts, recordings and tours, and 3) Cultivate deep appreciation of J.S. Bach through engaging education programs.”
There is no question that Maestro Kim is equipped to fulfill these goals, for as the CBE website states:
“James Kim spent 2 years in Stuttgart, Germany from 1997-1999 studying the music of Johann Sebastian Bach [where he studied with the renowned Helmut Rilling]. After returning to the US, the passion and dedication to promote the music of J.S. Bach to American audience on a professional level have been the focus of his musical endeavors. He is committed and most excited to bring Bach’s music vividly to the audience in Colorado.”
The bonus that I mentioned in the first sentence of this article is the fact that this was not just a standard chamber concert, but it was a lecture concert. Dr. Kim explained every piece in detail, concerning what Bach wished to do with each piece that he wrote. That “wish” becomes evident only after a thorough study of the composer, and vast experience in performing his music which, alone, provides great insight into a composer’s compositional method and style.
I think that it is quite safe to say that everyone in the large audience Friday evening was there because of a love for music. I do not know how many trained musicians were in the audience (I know there were some), but I strongly feel that a lecture concert is often needed. As I have written before, we are surrounded by music all the time from radio, TV, “hold” music on the telephone, video games, etc., so much so, that many people hear the music but no longer listen to it. Indeed, I sometimes think that many people have lost the ability to know precisely what to listen for. Therefore, I am sure that many in the audience had their memories stirred, and were able to recall past music appreciation classes that they had when music appreciation was still taught in the public schools.
The lecture portion of this concert was so skillfully done that I am also quite sure that many in the audience had a genuine epiphany. However, sometimes the acoustics, which are good for music, were not so beneficial for the spoken word, and there were a few moments when it was hard to understand what was being said.
The first work on the program was the Prelude and Fugue in A minor for organ, which carries the Schmieder catalogue number BWV 543. As my memory serves me, the organ version of this Prelude and Fugue is actually labeled BWV 543a, to distinguish it from the original harpsichord version which was solely 543 (Schmieder is Wolfgang Schmieder [1901 – 1990] who catalogued all of Bach’s works in his Bach-Werke-Verzeichnis).
At this delightful Friday concert, the organist was Kenrick Mervine who is on the faculty at Metropolitan State College in Denver. I will quote from his website:
“Kenrick Mervine has earned such reviews as ‘the kind of program I’ve been hoping to hear for years,’ ‘a delight for both the layman and the connoisseur,’ and ‘an organist of stature, one who’s personality encompasses superb musicianship and technique in equal measure.’ Ken has been working in concert and liturgical settings since 1976. His medium is music but the message is to take yourself beyond your own boundaries. He does this by bringing unexpected and unusual works to the audience. He earned his degrees (with Distinction) from Westminster Choir College, Princeton, NJ.
“Ken received an Organ Talent Scholarship Award in addition to honors and recognition from the American Guild of Organists, West Chester State University, and the Music Teachers National Alliance. He has appeared as guest soloist at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington, DC, been on the faculty of Seton Hall University, and was an accompanist for the New Jersey Ballet. Shortly after moving to Denver, Ken was privileged to serve as organist during Pope John Paul II’s visit during the World Youth Day celebration. Presently, he is Organist of Temple Emanuel, Denver; and appears regularly as organist with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra, Arapahoe Philharmonic and the Denver Brass. Ken has been on the faculty of Metropolitan State University of Denver since 2009.”
This short Prelude begins with the descending line of sixteenth notes which conveys the sound of a toccata, but it is certainly one that is moderately paced until the sixteenth notes are interrupted by thirty-second notes. Though it has been a while, I have heard this work performed on the piano, but I must say that Mervine’s playing surpassed anything that I anticipated. Even though the descending line is a solo voice for several measures, Mervine filled it with a rhythmic impetus, and the entrance of the low pedal after several measures was electrifying because of its portent. The Fugue, which is in a 6/8 meter as opposed to the 4/4 meter of the Prelude, also has a descending line but its two opening gestures provide a little more rhythmic insistence. Every musician knows that Bach is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, composer who ever lived and one of the reasons for this is his ability to write counterpoint, i.e., fugues. Graduate students in music performance are, of course, aware of this, but they all have to take courses in counterpoint and fugue. One of the results of such course is the realization of how good Bach was, and it certainly always makes it possible to sit in an audience at a concert such as the one Friday evening, and be stunned at the composer’s ability. And, I might add, Mervine’s ability. It was an absolute joy to listen to.
Following the Prelude and Fugue, Mervine performed Nun komm’ der Heiden Heiland (Come now, Saviour of the Heathen), one of the eighteen chorale preludes transcribed for organ by Bach. Mervine took an absolutely perfect tempo which allowed him to expose the intricacies of this work. I am not an organist, but I am assuming that he used the registrations that were indicated by Bach. Those registrations made everything so very clear, and bespoke the perceptible reverence that Mervine holds for this composer.
Following the chorale prelude came another bonus of this concert. It was the exquisite performance of a rarely performed work by Bach, the Sonata for Flute and Continuo in E minor, BWV 1034. It is one of the four surviving sonatas for flute, and we have no certain date for its composition. We do know that it was written for the traverse flute rather than the recorder, and we know that Bach may have used this piece in a series of concerts that were performed in a Leipzig coffee house. In this sonata, particularly the last movement, there is much imitation between the flute and the organ continuo. Kenrick Mervine was, once again, the organist for this work. The flautist was Ysmael Reyes. I will quote from Mr. Reyes’ website:
“Known for his lyric expression and powerful sound, Venezuelan flutist Ysmael Reyes enjoys a varied career as a soloist, orchestral player, and teacher. Mr. Reyes has performed as a concerto soloist, recitalist and orchestral and chamber musician in United States, Russia, Argentina, Puerto Rico, Venezuela, Ecuador, Bolivia, Peru, Colombia and Trinidad and Tobago. Engagements for 2011 include concerto appearances in the US as well as recitals and masterclasses in Brazil. As a winner of the 2011 National Flute Association Convention Performers Competition, Mr. Reyes performed at the NFA Convention in Charlotte, NC in August.
“Mr. Reyes joined the Cheyenne Symphony Orchestra as Principal Flute in 2006, and is currently on the faculty at Regis University and the Rocky Mountain Center for Musical Arts. Ysmael has performed in the U.S. with the Boulder Philharmonic, Fort Collins Symphony, Greeley Philharmonic, the Boulder Bach Festival, Colorado Music Festival and Music at Saddle Rock Performance Series and in Venezuela with the Simón Bolívar and Gran Mariscal de Ayacucho Symphony Orchestras. He was guest principal flute with the Juventudes Andinas Symphony Orchestra in their South American Tour.
“Mr. Reyes started his musical career in the internationally recognized System of Youth Orchestras of Venezuela. He received his BM from the University of the Arts in Caracas, Venezuela with Luis Julio Toro and Victor Rojas and his MM from the University of Iowa with Robert Dick and Tadeu Coelho. Recently he received a DMA from the University of Colorado studying with Christina Jennings and Alexa Still.”
This was yet another wonderful performance of Friday evening. These two musicians, Kenrick and Reyes, brought out the dialogue that occurs between the organists left-hand and the flute. I have never seen the score to this four movement sonata, but it is a difficult work, particularly the second movement, which has an enormous number of sixteenth notes without a single break for the flutist. It truly makes one wonder if Bach, himself, could play the flute without breathing. It was a wonderful performance. Reyes has amazing breath control, amazing tone, and apparently, limitless technique. I have not heard this flute sonata since it was performed by James Pellerite at my undergraduate school, and this performance by Kenrick and Reyes will become another memorable concert.
Following the sonata, the Colorado Bach ensemble performed the motet, Lobet den Herrn all Heiden. As Maestro Kim explained, this is the only motet written in four parts; the others are divided into eight parts. In addition, it was long thought that the motets were to be performed a cappella, but the discovery of instrumental parts for the cantata BWV 226 blend credence to the fact that they must have been written for a small chamber group. This is a short work, and Maestro Kim performed it twice, explaining the differences between the two performances. The choir, which he assembled for this performance was small but incredibly skilled, and I am almost forced to use the same words over again: this was a wonderful performance.
The last work on the program was one of Bach’s most beautiful cantatas, Nach dir, Herr, verlangt Mich (For thee, O Lord, I long), BWV 150. It was wonderful to hear the explanation of each verse and how they were related. This cantata has seven sections, and begins with a short Sinfonia without the choir. I have heard the cantatas performed with relatively large choirs and orchestras, and featuring some of the most outstanding vocal soloists in the world. But, the performance Friday night rang true, because it is a certainty that when these cantatas were performed, Bach did not have a huge choir and orchestra available to him. But I can assure you that the ensemble that performed Friday night was equal to any performance that I have previously heard. The musicians were excellent: both instrumentalists and vocalists. The acoustics were certainly what one might have found when this cantata was originally performed. The diction of the choir and the soloists was excellent. Abigail Chapman, soprano; Marjorie Bunday, alto; Gene Stenger, tenor; and Chris Maunu, bass, were absolutely superb. Maestro Kim has done a superb job of assembling these musicians.
The names of the instrumentalists are Margaret Soper Gutierrez, first violin; Heejung Kim, second violin; Carole Whitney, cello; David Schwartz, bassoon; Kenrick Mervine, keyboard; and Ysmael Reyes, flute. These excellent musicians were responsible for this cantata, and I point this out only to emphasize the fact that a huge ensemble is not necessary for excellence. It is also reflective of the size of ensemble that Bach probably had at his disposal.
Maestro James Kim is one of the few conductors that I have ever known who has the stamina and courage to present a lecture concert. As I explained above in this article, I am sure that this is extremely useful for the members of the audience at large who might not have been trained musicians. I know they appreciated it for they gave The Colorado Bach Ensemble a standing ovation. Both the lecture and the performance were superb.