Bach: St. Matthew Passion
April 5th, 2009
St. John the Apostle Catholic Church
CHAMBER SINGERS’ PASSION PERFORMANCE ‘A REVELATION’
By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer
April 7, 2009
Bach’s Saint Matthew Passion is a massive undertaking. It remains a miracle as composition, leaving us to wonder almost three centuries after it was written how it possibly could have been, considering the profundity of the score and the fact that Bach, while composing this grandeur, was continuing to produce music on a weekly basis for the Church of Saint Thomas in Leipzig and running all its choir activities.
For any performing entity, too, the presentation of the Saint Matthew Passion is a massive undertaking as well. It surely must have been for the Bloomington Chamber Singers and all the additional musicians that agreed to collaborate in the performance given Sunday afternoon at Saint John the Apostle Catholic Church.
The project began as a waking dream for Gerald Sousa, the BCS’s music director. He had conducted the work 20 years ago, driven to it then by the music’s power. It was time, he thought, to try it again, not only for himself as a matured musician but as a challenge for his chorus.
The challenge was more than well met. Sunday’s performance was a revelation, meaning that singers and instrumentalists were gratifying to hear and that Sousa’s understanding of the Passion was penetrating, loving and infectious.
It was a wonder, too, that he could move his chorus of part-timers from the community toward the lofty level of sound and interpretive acuity one heard; that he could gather and coalesce an orchestra prepared so successfully to obey his demands; and that he could find soloists — in small but amazing Bloomington — capable of meeting Bach’s steep vocal requirements.
But there they all were, in a church setting of greater width than depth, beautifully adaptable for the work’s antiphonal elements: a chorus split in two and set physically apart, an orchestral ensemble also divided in half, two organs (movable and brought in) and an additional children’s chorus (the sweet-sounding IU Children’s Choir) making a brief appearance at the rear of the sanctuary.
And there they were, singing and playing their utmost, accomplishing not only what Bach technically asked for but digging deep into the heart of this Passion, with text recounting the central narrative of the Christian faith, that leading to the Crucifixion, and with music designed to evoke reverence and renewed empathy for the story being told.
No better evangelist could have been found to musically relate that story than tenor Alan Bennett, his voice silver toned, his elocution pristine, his interpretation so forthright; nor could a more moving exponent have been chosen for the suffering Jesus than Daniel Narducci, he of a rich and resonant baritone and a sense for drama.
Baritone Curtis Crafton gave weight to the role of Pontius Pilate. As for those taxing Bach arias that comment on the biblical events being described, they were splendidly and expressively voiced by four fine soloists: soprano Angelique Zuluaga, mezzo-soprano Ursula Maria Kuhar, tenor Daniel Shirley and bass Joseph Beutel. Various members of the Chamber Singers doubled in minor yet key roles. Brent Gault and Lisa Yozviak deserve credit for preparing the IU Children’s Choir.
But it was the guiding light at the center, the man with the baton, conductor Sousa, who most deserves credit for having taken on the challenge and forging this absorbing and eloquent performance.