A religious experience with the Concert Artists

March 11, 1997|By David Donovan | David Donovan,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The 3 1/2 -hour traversal of the Bach "Saint Matthew" Passion at Le Clerc Hall on Sunday evening has to go down as the best thing the Concert Artists of Baltimore has given us to date. Everything about this performance was beautifully conceived and executed.

Bach's "Saint Matthew" Passion ranks along with Beethoven's Ninth Symphony as music that demands the highest commitment. It is a massive survey of religious feelings, from the tearful devotion of the faithful to the mockery of the nonbelievers. Bach brings the passion directly to the listener with his musical interpolations of the text. Mahler once said that to "create a symphony was to create a universe." Using Mahler's scale, Bach's "Saint Matthew" Passion is two universes since it is the length of two Mahler symphonies.

Edward Polochick's brisk tempos gave the music a transparency that one usually associates with original instrument performances. At the same time, he was also able maintain the monumental aspects of Bach's music.

The choice of soloists could not have been better. Richard Crawley gave the role of Evangelist depth and feeling. Much of the Evangelist's music has the barest of instrumental support, but Crawley sounded confident at every turn. No less impressive was Clayton Brainerd as Jesus. His first few entrances were a little tentative but this soon passed and he gave a powerful performance, especially in the dramatic music in the Passion's second half.

The chorale sections were masterpieces of heartfelt devotion. When called upon to be soloists, choral members responded to the glories of the music. Particularly fine was alto Lisa Bonenfant in "Ach, nun ist mein Jesus hin" that opened part two. Randal Woodfield's two arias were the model of taste and restraint.

Finally, the orchestra gave wonderful support and color through the maze of chorales, recitatives and arias. The violin solos of Jose Cueto and Cynthia Mauney were like perfect movements from Bach solo violin sonatas. Flute solos by Kristin Winter-Jones and oboes solos by Vladimir Lande were equally fine. The Viola da Gamba solos by Kenneth Slowik added Baroque authenticity.The all-important continuo was given real dignity by organist Marvin Mills and the bassoons, cellos and basses.

The surtitles supplied by the Baltimore Opera and the Peabody Conservatory were instrumental in keeping the music flowing.

Pub Date: 3/11/97

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