The Well-Tempered Music Guy

Simple thoughts by a simple listener on classical music

Monday, December 11, 2006

I'm back

I neglected this little blog for a while, but WKCR's Bachfest is (or should be) approaching, and I recalled this page. I won't be participating in Bachfest this year, unfortunately. I'd provide info on it, but oddly enough, I haven't received any. I hope the new folks in charge have their act together.

Speaking of Bach, I heard the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra last week at Carnegie Hall. It was one of the most disappointing concert experiences of my concert-going career. (Oh if only that were a career).

On the program were two great Bach choral works, the first cantata of the Christmas "Oratorio" and, the piece I was especially looking forward to, the Magnificat (D Major version). Based on past experience, Ton Koopman is not the most exciting or brilliant Bach interpreter, but his performances tend to be at the very least pleasant and competent. This experience included a live concert at Alice Tully a few years back of orchestral works and a solo cantata (I think Jauchzet Gott in Allen Landen), which I thoroughly enjoyed. So considering the strange paucity of top-notch period performance in NYC, I was anxiously looking forward to hearing one of my favorite Bach pieces performed by such an accomplished period group.

Well, as I said, my expectations were not met. The performance overall was very flat, overly staccato, too light and too limp. These are criticisms commonly leveled against period performance groups in general, but they are often not justified, cf. John Eliot Gardiner and Phillipe Herreweghe. Even the previous Ton Koopman performance I attended had far more energy.

Worse, the performance was just sloppy. I understand baroque trumpets are very difficult to play, especially at the speeds Koopman chose, but the Amsterdam trumpeters really struggled, especially in the Magnificat. Also, in the opening movement of the Magnificat, the oboist accidentally paused where there was no pause in the score, and quickly had to cover it up. The soprano, who only had one number in the concert, had serious intonation problems. And most egregiously, the mezzo, who actually had a terrific voice and whose performance up until that point was the highlight of the evening, entered her second aria of the Magnificat a measure too early. Granted, Bach at that point adds an unexpected little extra musical phrase at the end of the orchestral introduction; but obviously you'd think a performer would be well aware of this before taking the stage at Carnegie. There were other moments that just seemed ragged. On the plus side, the bass and the chorus were excellent.


Anonymous ES said...

I'm not in charge, but I'm told that the WKCR Bach festival begins Sun Dec 24th sometime around 9am, and concludes at 12n on Mon Jan 1st.

Koopman concert sounds like a real bummer. Guess it goes to show that even professional musicians will have a bad concert once in a while, for whatever reasons.

Anyway, good to have you back and actively posting, WTMG!

8:35 PM  
Blogger Huomiseksi said...

I've just discovered your blog, thanks to a link at the KCR website. I like the way you write and what you have to say. I'll keep my eye open for future postings from you!

So considering the strange paucity of top-notch period performance in NYC...

I see you read Oesterreich's review in the Times and have taken his prejudice at face value. The notion he perpetuates, that New York does not offer top-notch period performance, is a habitual thorn in the side to those of us who routinely perform period music at a top-notch level.

As a vocalist active in church music, I urge you to take into account the work of early musicians that goes overlooked by the reviewers. Just two examples:

The Magnificat offered yesterday at Holy Trinity Lutheran's Bach Vespers by professional period performers (with the able contribution of parish singers!) was expert technically and powerful musically. Judging from your description, it sounds like we did a better job than Koopman's people did!

Also yesterday afternoon, downtown at Trinity Church, Wall Street, another professional church choir with a period sound, together with Ensemble Rebel's instrumentalists who travel from all over the world to gig in New York, offered Messiah in a performance that has gained a worldwide audience (thanks to annual radio play and webcasts) AND acclaim by the press.

New York may not perceivably be the crucible of period performance that we wish it to be. But to assume that top-notch period performance is rare here is false. It's definitely out there. We, the musicians, are here and working.

9:19 AM  

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