Sunday, March 31, 2013

Orchestra of St. Luke's - Bach - 03/28/13

Conductor: Ivan Fischer
Bach: St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244
Dominique Labelle: Soprano
Barbara Kozelj: Mezzo-Soprano
John Tessier: Tenor
Hanno Müller-Brachmann: Bass-Baritone
Musica Sacra

As Easter and its inescapable parade of colorful eggs and cute bunnies were upon us, it seemed only appropriate to get into the spirit in the best possible way, with the Orchestra of St. Luke's and its guest conductor Ivan Fischer performing Bach's St. Matthew Passion at Carnegie Hall on Thursday night.
Although my friend Linden and I were eagerly anticipating the concert, it soon became clear that we were not quite prepared for what we were getting ourselves into. As Linden was carefully going through the text of it, she couldn't help notice how long it was, prompting us to wonder about the announced performance duration of approximately two hours and ten minutes. Now that would have required some rather remarkable speed singing skills. But we were in such good company that we decided to let go of such logistical details and focus our undivided attention on the musical experience ahead of us instead.

It turns out that the performance did last about one hour longer than expected, and while some parts certainly provided moments of timeless transcendental beauty, I came to the conclusion that the work could definitely use some editing. I am, however, also guessing that nobody will ever be brave enough to slice through the Gospel and Bach, the two being equally worshipped by their hordes of fiercely dedicated faithful.
Stopping at nothing to reach perfection, Bach came up with a sprawling composition containing a wide range of disparate elements - recitative, arias, chorales - expertly combined for maximum impact, and the result on Thursday night was unquestionably superb. The instrumental score was impeccably played by the orchestra and ever-engaged Ivan Fischer made sure that the various vocal parts fit in seamlessly as well. He was significantly helped in that mission by the distinguished Musica Sacra choir and a brilliant assortment of soloists, with the top prize going straight to mesmerizing Slovenian mezzo-soprano Barbara Kozelj. So the late and somber night was obviously still a very good night, and that is eventually what really mattered.

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