On Sunday afternoon we heard Bach’s, St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244, directed by Maestro Bruno Weill in his farewell season with the Carmel Bach Festival at Sunset Center in Carmel. We heard many fine moments from the orchestra, chorale, youth chorale, and soloists — so many details were beautifully calculated by the Maestro to accentuate the dramatic and musical events of this great masterpiece. Bach’s use of texture, melody, chromaticism, harmony, dissonance, modalities, orchestration, double chorus and instrumental writing were precisely controlled in this performance, and the placement of tempi, phrasing and dynamics were communicated to each musician in a way that encouraged them to perform at their very best. That we have a Bach Festival at all is a testament to how people continue to be deeply moved by the intellectual and spiritual, stimulation his music inspires.
There were many highlights during the afternoon. Clearly one of the great moments was Elizabeth Wallfisch’s violin obbligato solo in Erbarme dich with mezzo-soprano Sally-Anne Russell. Wallfish’s depth of understanding of each phrase, note and embellishment was artistically impressive. Ms. Russell’s performance was just as stunning as she skillfully maneuvered her resonant voice through florid embellishment and rich melodic lines.
Bach used the chorus to rhythmically highlight the drama of the text giving more meaning to the soloist’s performances. Many choral entrances were musically and rhythmically precise, and the chorale rose to the challenge with excellent diction and phrasing. Among the many of the solos sung by members of the chorale, the role of Jesus was sung by David Newman. His singing had a memorable flexibility and resonance. Allan Bennett, Evangelist, gave vibrancy and commitment to his role throughout the afternoon. The chorale’s singing of Kommt, ihr Töchter, helft mir klagen and Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder, at the beginning and end of the oratorio set a high standard for the entire concert and reflected the excellent choral direction of Andrew Megill. The inclusion of the youth chorus, directed by John Koza, in the first half of the program was an inspired touch — we are sure that being a part of this significant production is an experience none of the members of the youth chorus will ever forget.
In every entrance of soprano Kendra Colton’s singing displayed sheer beauty of tone and technique. Her aria Ich will dir mein Herze schenken, was impressive, and the accompanying woodwinds were but one example of the fine orchestral playing and accompanying we heard during this performance. Baritone Sanford Sylvan executed his aria Mache dich, mein Herze, rein with precision and elegance. The tenor aria Ich will bei meinen Jesu wachen was brilliantly sung by Thomas Cooley with again the woodwinds and chorus adding more completely delightful accompaniment. Included in the fine ensemble playing throughout the afternoon were Patrick Jordan, viola d’amore; Robin Carlson Peery, flute; Roger Cole, oboe and oboe da caccia; Neil Tatman, oboe; William Skeen, viola da gamba; Allen Wheat, cello; Dominic Teresi, bassoon; Daniel Swenberg, archlute; Andrew Arthur and Michael Batrie, organ. The musicians and singers were at their best this afternoon, as if to savor one of the remaining opportunities to perform with Maestro Weill. Carmel has been truly blessed to have this distinguished director at the helm of the Carmel Bach Festival for many years. Kudos to Bruno Weill!
Robin McKee Williams
Robin McKee Williams, MA, CMVT, is an active musical director and mezzo-soprano soloist for the Monterey Peninsula and San Francisco areas. Her training includes the Royal Conservatory of Music, Stanford University, San Jose State University and the McClosky Institute of Boston. She is presently pursuing a DMA degree from Boston University.