Chamber chorus, orchestra convey 'Passion' theme with heartfelt expression

Chamber chorus, orchestra convey theme with heartfelt expression

  • Baritone Shouvik Mondle sang the role of Jesus with a voice that possesses great tonal beauty, power and expressiveness.
Baritone Shouvik Mondle sang the role of Jesus with a voice that… (Bud Johnson // Photo for…)
April 04, 2010|By Mary Johnson | Special to The Baltimore Sun

In celebration of Holy Week, the Annapolis Chorale Chamber Chorus and the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra presented two performances of Bach's "St. Matthew Passion," which describes the betrayal of Christ, his arrest, trial, crucifixion and entombment. J. Ernest Green conducted the groups, along with two guest soloists, at St. Anne's Church in Annapolis.

Bach's monumental "St. Matthew Passion" is perhaps his grandest musical composition. With the two choruses, two separate orchestras and solo voices, this work is considered by some to be the finest piece of music ever composed.

"The experience of this piece for singers and audience members is like no other," said Green in a pre-concert lecture. "It touches everyone in a deeply personal way as they are drawn into the emotion of the story."

Two mighty choruses begin and end this work, and Green brought a wondrous sound from the Annapolis Chamber Chorus right from the start that may have expressed exactly what Bach imagined three centuries ago. The enormous theme was conveyed with heartfelt expression by the chorus in dialogue with the orchestra.

The Youth Chorus, under the direction of Jill Woodward, sang at the beginning and ending of Part I and did a fine job.

The opening recitative after the choral segment is introduced by the Evangelist Matthew, who tells the Passion story. This most demanding role was brilliantly sung by tenor Robert Petillo, who met every vocal challenge of the role, summoning every required emotion and expressively conveying hope throughout.

The role of Jesus was sung by baritone Shouvik Mondle, whose voice has great tonal beauty, power and expressiveness. He combined dignity and sublime compassion, conveying the humanity of Jesus, who knows he is about to be betrayed. Mondle gave a moving portrayal through the trial scene and in his "Eli, Eli, lama asabthani" on the cross.

Another major role in this piece is that of the alto, who relieves the terrible urgency expressed by the chorus in a tender recitative expressing love and compassion in "You, dear Savior," ending in response to the woman who had anointed Jesus with precious ointment in the lines, "With floods of tears from my eyes, pour water on your head!"

Mezzo-soprano Susan Fleming filled this role with her rich, agile voice movingly expressing compassion throughout the work. Following the description of the scourged Jesus handed over to be crucified, Fleming's purity of expression and heartfelt articulation of "Konnen Tranen" ("If the tears on my cheeks can achieve nothing") revealed her ability to sustain and expand a pure musical line. Later, her "Ebarme dich" ("Have mercy") became a plea for all the righteous, translating to a most compelling musical moment.

Anther noteworthy soloist was baritone Jason Buckwalter, who portrayed Peter, Pilate and Pontifex 2, and was stunning in "Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder" ("Give me back my Jesus").

Carolene Winter as Pilate's wife delivered high drama and vocal beauty as she cautioned Pilate to refrain from judging this just man.

Soprano soloist Karen Myers sang a compassionate "Aus Liebe," "Out of love, my Savior is willing to die," which followed Pilate's deliberations.

Other soloists worthy of mention include J. Austin Bitner and Christopher Rhodovi, who portrayed Judas and Pontifex 1.

The Annapolis Chamber Orchestra enhanced the poetic text and intensified the emotions, sometimes producing tremendous waves of melody or adding intensity to the relationships between soloists and chorus.

When the chorus brought Bach's work to a close - "With the greatest content there our eyes will close in sleep" - the audience seemed to catch its collective breath in a prolonged moment of silence before responding with a standing ovation.

Future performances
Next on schedule for J. Ernest Green and the Annapolis Chorale is a 21st-century multimedia presentation of National Geographic and NASA images lending a modern touch to Joseph Haydn's 200-year-old "The Creation," April 23 and 24 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. Single-ticket prices are $34, $37 and $12 for students plus a $3 service charge per ticket. To order tickets, call 410-280-5640.

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