Weekly Magazine

THIS WEEK

SHAKESPEARE’S ROMEO & JULIET opens in the Grove at DeLaveaga Park in Santa Cruz. TRIAL BY JURY by G&S at Cabrillo College Thursday only. PIANIST YOONIE HAN (above) plays Reynaldo Hahn* in Aptos. DJANGO ALL-STARS at Kuumbwa. BACH FESITIVAL continues in Carmel. For links to these and other live performance events, click our CALENDAR 

SANTA CRUZ CHAMBER PLAYERS 2018-19 SEASON

VIOLINIST ROY MALAN is concert director for Brahms in September. AMERICAN VOICES in November. WILD COAST BRASS in January. VIOLINIST REBECCA JACKSON is concert director in February. DEREK TAM will lead “Chinese Baroque” in March. PIANIST IVAN ROSENBLUM directs “Madness and Music” in April. All concert pairs at Christ Lutheran Church in Aptos. 

*REYNALDO HAHN PLAYS AND SINGS HIS OWN

MARIN ALSOP LAUNCHES BERNSTEIN CELEBRATION

SHE CONDUCTS Chicago Symphony Orchestra with violinist Joshua Bell in a recreation of Bernstein’s original NY Philharmonic program at Ravinia. Click HERE  

MONTEREY’S DALÍ17 MUSEUM BEING SUED

THE FUNDACIÓ GALA-SALVADOR DALÍ in Figueres, Spain has sued the museum Dalí17 in Monterey, over its use of the artist’s name and imagery. Click HERE  

WHY HAMILTON IS THE OPERA FOR OUR TIME

Click HERE  

INGMAR BERGMAN TURNS 100

SWEDISH THEATER/FILM DIRECTOR always chose his music with great care. Woody Allen has been a notable imitator. Criterion to issue 39 Bergman films in November on Blu-ray. A bargain at $300. Click HERE  

A LIFE AS A CARTOON

TARA STRONG has a voice everyone has heard.

FRESH REVIEWS

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE DAME in Carmel. Click HERE

JS BACH’S MATTHÄUS-PASSION at Carmel Bach Festival. Click HERE

NEXT WEEK

CABRILLO FESTIVAL OF CONTEMPORARY MUSIC opens in Santa Cruz. CHOREOGRAPHER’S SHOWCASE presents new dance works at SpectorDance in Marina. THE FANTASTICKS opens at Monterey Peninsula College. SINGER/TRUMPETER Bria Skonberg comes to Kuumbwa. THE PRODUCERS takes Cabrillo Stage. THE FLICK opens at Hartnell College.

FOLLOW US ON TWITTER: @PerfArtsMtyBay

Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor

 

CBF’s St Matthew Passion

WALTZING IN GRIEF

By Scott MacClelland

THE MOST POPULAR individual pieces in JS Bach’s Matthew Passion oratorio are the big choral settings and the solo arias, all in triple meter—12/8, 6/8, 3/8, 3/4. The opening chorus, with its ‘Q and A’ antiphonal choral dialogue, the finale to Part I, “O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde gross” (“O Man bewail thy grievous sin”) and the final chorus of the entire piece, “Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder” (“We sit down in grief”), along with the especially beloved solo arias, “Erbarme dich, mein Gott” (“Have mercy, Lord”) and “Mache dich, mein Herze, rein” (“Make my heart clean of sin”) are all in triple meter.

Why is that? How do you waltz when you ‘sit down in grief’? Most of Bach’s Matthew Passion setting is in a meter of four, certainly including the chorales that interrupt the narrative in favor of the ‘faithful’ as they react, often with dismay, to the events of the unfolding narrative tragedy. Yet for some reason Bach chose to direct the most deeply emotional reactions to that narrative in dance rhythms, gentle lullabies and dreamy ballets, the better to soothe the grief of inevitable doom. Here, the passion of Christ is not relieved by his resurrection.

Paul Goodwin’s orchestra and Andrew Megill’s chorus were divided in two. They came together for those moments that demanded the greatest weight, including the chorales and ‘crowd’ scenes. Each of the two orchestras, arranged in a semicircle, gave the first rows to the wind instruments, with the strings behind, each with its own concertmaster. Both had their own continuo sections and organs. Tuning was in Baroque practice, A = 415 hertz, giving the overall sound a deeper, mellower character. Among the instruments were such exotica as viola da gamba and oboes da caccia.

Rufus Müller, the Evangelist dedicated to the Matthew liturgy exclusively, sang the entire narrative from memory. Timbral variations across his range produced at least three different vocal qualities. The four soloists came into their expressive own in the longer second part of Bach’s setting. Mezzo soprano Meg Bragle struggled a bit in the first part, perhaps because of the lower tuning. Tenor Thomas Cooley and baritone John Brancy especially rose to the occasion in their second-part arias. The competent soprano was Mhairi Lawson. The character roles—Jesus, Peter, Judas, Pilate, etc.—were drawn from Megill’s Chorale.

The opening chorus, “Kommt, ihr tochter” (“Come ye daughters”) omitted the familiar chorale melody, “O Lamm Gottes unschuldig” (“O lamb of God, most holy”), usually sung by a children’s chorus, that overtops the two antiphonal choirs. Conspicuous by its absence, I raised the question with Megill who explained that a 1736 manuscript edition implies that the ripieno soprano line was removed, without the words, into the organ. In this case, he told me, into the two organs. This crucial melody was MIA—missing in action.         

David Gordon’s projected English supertitles tended to lag behind the sung German, indeed by several pages when the performance resumed after intermission.

Notwithstanding those who put faith above humanity, Bach himself included, his Matthew Passion stands as the most persuasively charged work of humanity in Western music. When paced well, its allure is both intensely emotional and profoundly cathartic. Like the Christ himself, I doubt that Bach fully understood the depth he had plumbed.

This performance timed in at two hours and 42 minutes. (A justifiably famous and well-celebrated 1960-61 recording conducted by Otto Klemperer, with much larger orchestra and chorus, added more than an hour.) This afternoon, I give credit to Paul Goodwin for keeping the piece moving forward with energy and momentum and an overall Baroque character.

Artistically, the Bach Festival is more like Bach’s own: provincial. Wikepedia’s updated entry on Goodwin makes the festival sound like an afterthought to his international career: “He has been appointed the Music Director and Conductor of the Carmel Bach Festival from the 2011 season.”