Carmel Bach Festival – Christmas in July.

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The Carmel Bach Festival’s Sunday afternoon concert featuring movements from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio and works by Mendelssohn and Brahms will be difficult for me to review. Let me start with the good things: Mendelssohn and Brahms. The performances of Psalm 42 in F major, Op. 42 by Mendelssohn and Nänie, Op. 82 by Brahms were a joy to hear.

These composers have created some of the finest large choral works ever written. Brahms, especially, was capable of writing music that would roll over you with wave upon wave of power and then mix in moments of lyrical, heavenly softness that would enfold you with delicate, sublime beauty. There is something about the human voice (or an ensemble of voices) that touches each of us in a unique and personal way.

Once again, the Festival Orchestra, Chorale, Chorus and soloists gave us something to write home about. The Chorale and Chorus, under the fine direction of Andrew Megill, were well up to the task of pulling all of the emotion out of both pieces.

In Psalm 42, soprano Kendra Colton sang with beautiful phrasing and great sensitivity in her lovely solo Meine Tränen sind meine Speise Tag und Nacht. She was joined very aptly by a quartet of men (Steven Caldicott Wilson, David Vanderwal, Tim Krol and Sumner Thompson) in the quintet Der Herr hat des Tages verheißen seine Güte. But it was the entire ensemble that brought to life the majesty of Mendelssohn’s work as they enraptured the audience with beautiful singing.

Likewise, the Brahms Nänie (a funeral or mourning song) was superbly executed. This work is not often performed due to its difficulty. Bravo to these singers for a wonderful, tasteful and sympathetic performance. The music written in 1881 is set to the poem of the same name by Schiller and was composed in memory of Brahms’ friend, German painter, Anselm Feuerbach, who died in 1880. This is a powerful piece and was the highlight of the afternoon.

I am sorry to say that the three sections of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio that made up the first half of the program were difficult to sit through. That is not to say they were not well performed, for they were. The chorus, orchestra and soloists were wonderful. The orchestra, in particular the solo sections by the violin, trumpet, bassoon and duo oboes, were fantastic. The vocal soloists (Kendra Colton, Soprano; Sally-Anne Russell, mezzo-soprano; Alan Bennett, tenor; and Sanford Sylvan, bass) were splendid. I particularly enjoyed the timbre of Ms. Russell’s lush mezzo. The chorus did just what it should do. However, the problem was with the tempos. They were slow, oh, so slow and one after another. The guy next to me fell asleep during the third movement of the first section (more on that later), and he REALLY wanted to hear the piece, or so he told me before the concert. You could see the performers on stage were pretty well “oozed” out about half way through the second section and so was the audience.  The air in the concert hall was filled with dreams of “Gads, why did I eat lunch” or “Oh, my, why didn’t I eat lunch”.  No one knew quite when to applaud. No one was awake.  Yet, the second half of the concert was worth the wait!

SOAPBOX: Let’s talk about the guy who fell asleep. Please, audience members, if you think you are going to fall asleep, or just don’t want to come (or are coming for some reason other than to listen to the music), just stay home. It is so rude to have someone next to you with his head bobbing up and down, body flinching, nose a-snoring, trying to look “cool.” Tell your wife or husband that you just don’t want to go because you are too tired and let the rest of us enjoy the performance. Sometime, perhaps, I will come to your house during the Super Bowl to sleep and snore on the sofa in your TV room, OK?

Reg Huston has been a concert soloist and has performed leading roles in opera and musical theater throughout the United States and Europe for over thirty years.

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