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A Joyful and Humane B Minor Mass at Emmanuel Music: Ryan Turner begins his second season as Music Director, followed by a 2011-12 season schedule

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Ryan Turner, Music Director of Emmanuel Music
Ryan Turner, Music Director of Emmanuel Music

Bach B Minor Mass
Saturday, September 24, 2011 – 8:00 PM

Pre-Concert Talk at 7:00 PM
with Robin A. Leaver
Emeritus Professor of Sacred Music at Westminster Choir College and Visiting Professor at Yale University

The Orchestra and Chorus of Emmanuel Music
Ryan Turner, conductor

Soloists:
Matthew Anderson
Roberta Anderson
Kendra Colton
Susan Consoli
Thea Lobo
Miranda Loud
Deborah Rentz-Moore
Sumner Thompson
Krista River
Teresa Wakim
Donald Wilkinson
Zachary Wilder

As Ryan Turner began his second season as Music Director of Emmanuel Music so ambitiously with Bach’s B Minor Mass, it seems a good time to reflect on this small, but extremely productive organization and its place in the Boston musical world. One of the most characteristic—and felicitous—aspects of classical music in Boston is the proliferation of these groups, often founded around a chorus, but featuring non-choral music as well, often cultivating a speciality in Baroque music, and often combining this with the music of Classical, Romantic, and contemporary composers. Boston is home to other groups that play Baroque music on period instruments, and some of these have achieved international reputations. At Emmanuel music of the eighteenth century and earlier is played on modern instruments in a style which conforms more or less with the performance practices developed in the postwar years by Günther Ramin and Kurt Thomas with the Thomanerchor at Leipzig, and extending to Fritz Lehmann and Karl Richter in Berlin and Munich—with roots in the reformed performances of the 1920s. This doesn’t mean that these musicians don’t listen to their historically informed colleagues. In Boston, it is pretty well impossible for them not to exchange ideas and to learn from one another. As compelling as period performances of Baroque masters are, there is one great virtue to modern instruments: the music can be performed as part of a tradition extending up to the present day. The musicians can perform Bach seamlessly amidst Brahms, Bruckner, Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Vaughn Williams, or, say, John Harbison, Principal Guest Conductor at Emmanuel Music, who wrote an enlightening personal note on the B Minor Mass for this performance.

Mr. Harbison also acted as Artistic Director of Emmanuel Music, between the untimely death of its founder, Craig Smith, and the appointment of Ryan Turner last year. Smith started Emmanuel Music in 1970 for the purpose of performing all of Bach’s cantatas on the specific Sunday in the liturgical calender for which they were written and in the context of the Sunday service. After two complete traversals this still continues as one of their most important contributions to musical life in Boston. However, it did not take long for Smith to expand the range of Emmanuel’s work not only into Bach’s Passions, but into Handel, Haydn, Mozart, Schubert, Brahms, Schumann, Debussy, and Schoenberg. The great pianist Russell Sherman joined him in many of these endeavors. Then Smith embarked on an operatic project. He performed Mozart’s three collaborations with Lorenzo da Ponte with contemporary stagings by Peter Sellars, which travelled widely with other groups and are preserved on DVDs filmed in Vienna. In 2006-07 Emmanuel Music performed the three Handel Ariosto operas, Orlando, Ariodante, and Alcina. Last year there was a highly-acclaimed performance of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. Emmanuel Music has also collaborated with the Mark Morris Dance Group. A crucial part of this work consisted in the development of young singers. Smith hired many promising young voices for the chorus and for solo work, and some of them are recognized today as among the finest: Sanford Sylvan, the late Lorraine Hunt Lieberson, and James Maddalena, to name only a few. Ryan Turner has taken over a vigorous organization with a forty-year tradition central to the developments in Boston music over the past generation.

In Ryan Turner, a two-year search led to a tenor in the Emmanuel Chorus itself, who was engaged by Craig Smith in the late 1990s as one of his young singers. Turner has also been, and continues to be, Director of Choral Activities at Phillips Exeter Academy since 2005, and has held other important positions around New England and elsewhere.

Not having been in Boston very often over the past year, this was my first opportunity to hear one of Mr. Turner’s performances. It had a character entirely its own, although it was certainly in sympathy with Smith’s and Harbison’s precedent. At Emmanuel performances the church always fills up with enthusiastic regulars, who clump together in groups who appear to know each other well. Before the music began everybody seemed very much at ease, and the hubbub sounded upbeat, as if they were anticipating something good—a sign that the new music director has settled in nicely.

The forces were suitably small, but by no means as minimal as Joshua Rifkin has recommended: one singer and one string player to a part. There was only a single cello and a single double bass, in keeping with a true continuo section, but two violas and four each in the first and second violin section. The chorus consisted of eight sopranos, six altos, five tenors, and six basses (which included several young and more mature singers who are highly in demand as soloists, the best known to me being Teresa Wakim, Deborah Rentz-Moore, Jason McStoots, and Matthew Anderson, all of whom have shown their admirable knowledge of period style with the Boston Early Music Festival)—a larger group than many used today. Of the two best recent recordings of the Mass in B Minor, John Butt and the Dunedin Consort have followed Rifkin’s edition (doubling the violins), while Jos van Veldhoven and the Netherlands Bach Society have five soloists and ten “ripienists,” as they call them. (In full chorus all fifteen sing together.) The Emmanuel group adopted a system similar to these, in that twelve of the chorus stepped forward as soloists, blurring the line between chorus and soloist, although not with the sophisticated combinations employed by Veldhoven. It is well to remember that a century ago the B Minor Mass might be performed by choruses numbering as much as five hundred, accompanied by a full late 19th/20th century orchestra.

The opening invocation of the Lord, “Kyrie!” set the tone for the performance, as it should. It retained a sense of the grandeur of the Mass, while it had enough movement to be well-shaped. In the following contrapuntal entrances the different sections of the chorus were vividly colored with the timbre of each section, and most expressively phrased under Mr. Turner’s direction. But there was something more. One could hear enough of the individual singers’ voices to lend the ensemble a vibrant coloration, as well as some signs of the enthusiastic contribution of each individual. The acoustics of Emmanuel Church was well-balanced across the tonal range, but are sufficiently reverberant to make it difficult to achieve any clarity in the music like the Kyrie or any of the other contrapuntal passages in the Mass. Turner showed amazing skill in maintaining clear textures and understandable diction under these difficult circumstances. Unlike some other performances I have heard in the main church, I found all the voices and instrumental sections satisfyingly lucid throughout.

As responsive and musicianly as the orchestra was, and as eloquent the solo playing of flutes, oboes, trumpet, and violins, this was very much a singer’s performance of the Mass, with the chorus singing together as unanimous soloists, and the soloists expressing themselves with a freedom and individuality one rarely hears. One felt that they were singing with a mutual understanding with their conductor, rather than a compromise of possibly differing opinions. The directness of expression, in fact, of the soloists was truly remarkable and gave the performance a marvelous sense of warmth and life. Virtually all the soloists sang with full confidence and command of their music, and in the one case that was slightly weaker, the feeling and commitment were still there. The solo work was truly superb in all ways, and the interaction of the singers with the great woodwind playing was a joy to hear: the flutes in the “Domine Deus,” the horn and bassoons in “Quoniam Tu solus sanctus,” and the oboes in “Et unum Dominum.” The joy both soloists and ripienists took in their work was very nearly matched, if less demonstratively, by the instrumentalists.

It was most definitely not lost on Ryan Turner, his singers, and his orchestra that the B Minor Mass is predominantly happy music, and they set their spiritual compass accordingly, without slighting the grandeur, pain, and mystery that surround faith in the Kingdom of Heaven. The solid foundations of Bach’s religion consisted of redemption from error and death. And through such an insightful performance as this one can learn a thing or two about one’s beliefs, Christian and otherwise. In this sense J. S. Bach, who taught Latin as well as music, taught theology as well, and continues his lessons in his music.

Sir Malcolm Sargent once, when rehearsing Handel’s Messiah, noticed something missing in one of the female soloists’ singing. He later approached her, asking if she believed in what she was singing, and she answered, “no.” He answered that she should then be singing something else. There is no mistaking that the B Minor Mass is religious music, but there have been magnificent, moving performances of Bach’s Passions that emerge from an entirely secular spirit, focusing on the Passion as tragedy or as human unjustice. I have admired Riccardo Chailly’s recent recorded performance of the St. Matthew Passion specifically for its humane qualities, but, distracted by some deficient solo singing and recording, I can’t help feeling that something is missing. The beauty of Emmanuel Music’s B Minor Mass is that it was all there in its fullness.

Emmanuel Music Season Schedule

Sunday Cantata Series

Thursday Noon
Lindsey Chapel Series

Beethoven Chamber Series
Year II
Sundays, 4:00 PM
October 23, November 6, 2011
January 8 and 22, 2012

The intimate Parish Hall at Emmanuel Church
Emmanuel Music now enters the second year in a multi-year survey of the chamber and vocal works of Beethoven. Among the many treasures of his early and middle periods will be the seldom-heard WoO 36 Piano Quartets, as well as the poignant lyricism of Beethoven lieder

CONCERT I:
October 23, 2011
Piano Trio No. 9 in Eb major, WoO 38
String Trio No. 4 in D major, Op. 9 No. 2
Violin Sonata No. 2 in A major, Op. 12
Der Wachtelschlag, WoO 129
Als die Geliebte sich trennen wollte, WoO 132
Sehnsucht, WoO 134
Andenken, WoO 136
An die Geliebte, WoO 140
Gabriela Diaz, violin
Mark Berger, viola
Joshua Gordon, cello
Leslie Amper, piano
Robert Merfeld, piano
Pamela Dellal, mezzo soprano

CONCERT II:
November 6, 2011
Trio for Piano, Flute and Bassoon, WoO 37
Piano Quartet No. 1 in Eb major, WoO 36
Cello Sonata No. 1 in F major, Op. 5
Three Songs, Op. 83
In questa tomba oscura, WoO 133
Gesang aus der Ferne, WoO 137
Vanessa Holroyd, flute
Thomas Stephenson, bassoon
Rose Drucker, violin
Joan Ellersick, viola
David Russell, cello
Randall Hodgkinson, piano
Sanford Sylvan, baritone

CONCERT III:
January 8, 2012
Piano Trio No. 10 in Eb major, 14 Variations on an Original Theme, Op. 44
String Trio No. 5 in C minor, Op. 9, No. 3
Cello Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5
Que le temps me dure, Hess 130
Seufzer eines Ungeliebten – Gegenlieb, WoO 118
Man strebt die Flamme zu verhehlen, WoO 120
Romance, WoO 128
Lebensglück, Op. 88
Heather Braun, violin
Mary Ruth Ray, viola
Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello
Brett Hodgdon, piano
Kendra Colton, soprano

CONCERT IV:
January 22, 2012
Piano Quartet No. 2 in D major, WoO 36
Sextet for Horns and String Quartet, Op. 81b
Violin Sonata in A minor, Op. 23
Elegie auf den Tod eines Pudels, WoO 110
Punschlied, WoO 111
An Laura, WoO 112
Klage, WoO 113
Ein Selbstgespräch, WoO 114
La tiranna, WoO 125
Neue Liebe neues Leben, WoO 127
Heidi Braun-Hill, violin
Randy Hiller, violin
Jonina Mazzeo, viola
Michael Curry, cello
Sergey Schepkin, piano
Whitacre Hill, horn
Jason McStoots, tenor

Russell Sherman, piano
Frank Kelley, tenor
Sundays, 4:00 PM
February 5 and 19, 2012
The intimate Parish Hall at Emmanuel Church
Renowned piano virtuoso Russell Sherman returns with Emmanuel Music’s acclaimed tenor Frank Kelley for performances of two of the best-loved song cycles in the repertoire.

February 5, 2012
Schubert Die Schöne Müllerin, Op. 25

February 19, 2012
Schumann Dichterliebe, Op. 48
Schumann Kinderszenen (Scenes from Childhood), Op. 15

Connected by Bach
Saturday, February 11, 2012 – 8:00 PM
Pre-concert Talk at 7:00 PM by John Heiss

The Orchestra and Vocal Soloists of Emmanuel Music
Ryan Turner, conductor

Bach Orchestral Suite No. 4 in D Major, BWV 1069
Stravinsky “Dumbarton Oaks” Concerto in E-Flat
Corigliano Fancy on a Bach Air
Rafael Popper-Keizer, cello
Mozart Adagio and Fugue in C Minor, K. 546
Stravinsky
Pulcinella (complete ballet)
Katherine Growdon, mezzo-soprano
Charles Blandy, tenor
Dana Whiteside, bass-baritone

Well into their compositional careers, both Mozart and Stravinsky discovered the past, drawing inspiration from the music of the Baroque. Dumbarton Oaks quotes the Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, while the Mozart Adagio and Fugue in C Minor refers to the contrapuntal style of the Well Tempered Clavier, and Fancy on a Bach Air, by contemporary composer John Corigliano, recalls the Bach cello suites. Our concert concludes with one of Stravinsky’s earliest neo-classical works, Pulcinella, a ballet based on the 18th century play after themes by Pergolesi.

Emmanuel Music at Rockport
Sunday, March 18, 2012, 3 PM
Shalin Liu Performance Center
37 Main Street Rockport, MA 01966
For more information and tickets, click here.

The Splendour of the Baroque

Bach Lobet den Herrn, alle Heiden, BWV 230
Schütz selections from
Cantiones Sacrae & Symphonia Sacrae
Bach Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ, BWV 177
Handel
Oboe Concerto No. 3 in G minor, HWV 287
Peggy Pearson, oboe
Monteverdi Se vittoria si bella
Zefiro torna
Jason McStoots, Frank Kelley, tenors
Handel Arias & Duets

Mozart
La Clemenza di Tito
Saturday, April 14, 2012 – 8:00 PM
Pre-Concert Talk at 7:00 PM by John Harbison

The Orchestra and Chorus of Emmanuel Music
Ryan Turner, conductor

Tito
Vitellia
Sesto
Annio
Servilia
Publio
William Hite, tenor
Deborah van Renterghem, soprano
Krista River, mezzo-soprano
Pamela Dellal, mezzo-soprano
Susan Consoli, soprano
Aaron Engebreth, baritone

Mozart composed his last opera, La Clemenza di Tito immediately after he had completed The Magic Flute. Its radiant humanity shaped Mozart’s approach to transforming the classic opera seria libretto from its traditional static structure to a pathbreaking stage work, luminous in its characterizations and achingly beautiful in its emotions. It brings a story of desperate intrigues, unrequited love, and heart-stopping reversals of fortune taken directly from Roman history. Roman aristocrat Vitellia plots the assassination of Tito, Emperor of Rome. Tito’s forgiveness of his enemies catches all off guard, turning the opera’s theme into one of clemency and redemption.

 

About Michael Miller

Michael Miller, Editor and Publisher of New York Arts and The Berkshire Review, an International Journal for the Arts, was trained as a classicist and art historian at Harvard and Oxford, worked in the art world for many years as a curator and dealer, and contributed reviews and articles to Bostonia, Master Drawings, Drawing, Threshold, and North American Opera Journal, as well as numerous articles for scholarly and popular periodicals. He has taught courses in classics, the English language, and art history at Oberlin, Rutgers, New York University, the New School, and Williams. Currently, when he is not at work on The Berkshire Review and New York Arts, he writes fiction, pursues photography, and publishes scholarly work. In 2011 he contributed an introductory essay to Leonard Freed: The Italians / exh. cat. Io Amo L’Italia, exhibition at Le Stelline, Milan, and wrote the revised the section on American opera houses in The Grove Dictionary of American Music. He is currently at work on a libretto for a new opera by Lewis Spratlan, Midi, an adaptation of Euripides’ Medea set in the French West Indies, ca. 1930.

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