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25.3.06

Orff‘n’Bach

J. Reilly Lewis (a few years back)WPAS invited to the Kennedy Center for a program of Bach cantatas and the choral hoopla, the inextinguishable, ever delighting Carmina Burana. Think of it as “Orff‘n’Bach” was J. Reilly Lewis’s painfully funny quip from the rostrum. The program was split between his two teams in town, the Washington Bach Consort in the first half and the Cathedral Choral Society in the second. In a football match, the Cathedral Choral Society would have won, not only because they fielded ten times more players, but because they were on home turf. The fact of the matter is that the small, authentic instrument-playing forces of the Washington Bach Consort get lost in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall’s already unflattering acoustic. Without being arranged properly, they sound wimpy.

Still, that didn’t keep them from performing the Choral Overture of the Christmas Cantata Unser Mund sei voll Lachens with panache. Sounds familiar, because it’s the fourth orchestral suite’s overture with throats thrown in. This short work gave Reilly Lewis the opportunity to ‘plug’ some of the singers of his choir as soloists. Soprano Rebecca Kellerman Petretta and countertenor Roger Isaacs made the most of that opportunity with very fine, unmannered performances; tenor Ole Hass and bass Jon Bruno were a bit lost and sounded overwhelmed.

Other Reviews:

Grace Jean, When Johann Met Carl: Beautiful Music Together (Washington Post, March 23)
Because it’s the exciting Bach piece these days, the “new” soprano aria Alles mit Gott…, BWV 1127 (see Ionarts review of the first recording under Gardiner) was offered as the concert’s opener. The work didn’t sound any less the whimsical, beautiful ditty it is here; Elizabeth Futral, radiant, sounded a little heavier than ideal, more earthbound – especially in the ornamentation. A clearer, more focused sound might help in that repertoire. Good to hear this little gem live for the first time – it will be better yet to hear it in a more appropriately intimate space. (Perhaps it will be performed at one of the Tuesday Noontime Cantata concerts, assuming it wasn’t when I skipped the last such performance.)

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J. S. Bach, Tönet Ihr Pauken..., Herreweghe/CVG
The Wedding Cantata, BWV 202, Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten offered some pitch ambiguities on Ms. Futral’s part and sounded scraggly in what is essentially a succession of soprano arias strung together with recitatives and prominent oboe participation. BWV 214, the Birthday Cantata (Tönet, ihr Pauken), is familiar stuff from another of its incarnations – the Christmas Oratorio. (It also gives the title to the latest of the outstanding Philip Herreweghe Bach discs on Harmonia Mundi.) The flutes in their long exposed passage were absolutely outstanding and stole the show from Futral, despite the latter’s glamour and effulgent beauty or the fact that here she was in better form than in the previous works. Mezzo Rosemarie van der Hooft was vocally very charming in a dry, humble way; soft when low and very good. Bass-baritone Stephen Powell was outstanding, ditto the natural trumpet player.

Elizabeth FutralCarmina Burana, oft-performed as it is, was a hoot. For one, the quantity of decibels involved goes a long way, and its primitive appeal (I don’t mean that derisively at all) rarely fails to move. And some 170 singers can make an awful lot of noise. When you do Carmina, you might as well go over the top, be sufficiently grandiose… and in acting their parts out, tenor Robert Baker (Baron Jacobi, Pedrillo, ...) and Stephen Powell did just that. If I thought Baker was a great roasted swan (Cygnus ustus cantat), running about in a feather-fuming frenzy, Powell’s piss-drunk Cockaignean abbot was even more hilarious (Ego sum abbas) with laughter rippling throughout the concert hall. Ms. Futral as siqua sine socio: you can’t go ooze erotically charged deliciousness in that cappuccino-golden silk dress on stage and have us believe you the part of ‘girl without a lover’. In trutina was wonderfully, movingly done – Ms. Futral making up for what might have been missing in the Bach and the strings in complete harmony with her voice. With Carmina you know more or less what you’ll get and can choose whether to attend or not. Those who did got all that and a little bit more.