Saturday, March 21, 2009

J.S.Bach - St John Passion. Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra

The Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra’s fourth concert for the 2008-2009 season presented J.S.Bach’s “St. John Passion”. It was conducted by Andrew Parrott, the honorary conductor of the JBO. In his book “The Essential Bach Choir” (2000) Parrott writes that, in Bach’s choral compositions, there were few singers – often one to a part – and in the JBO’s performance, there were, indeed, only two vocal quartets.

J.S.Bach (1685-1750) composed some of the music for this work when in Weimar (1708-1717) but the bulk of the composition was probably written at the beginning of 1724 and first performed April 7 (Good Friday) of that year. Bach made subsequent changes to it but in his last version, in 1749, we see Bach returning to most of his earlier ideas. Bach has added commentary and sacred poems by contemporary writers into the text, the content of which can lead to much discussion. The work itself is highly emotional and theatrical in its approach, with many much-loved Lutheran chorales throughout.

From the initial turbulent strains introducing the first chorale, the drama of the Passion is set before us. New York-based tenor Marc Molomot, as the Evangelist, the major solo role in this work, his voice transparent and engaging, was a brilliant narrator, weighing each word and gesture, setting all sides of the dilemma before the audience, presenting each emotional nuance with personal expression. His performance of the following aria (no.20), for example, accompanied by bass instruments and two viola d’amores, was delicate and mellifluous, pensive and moving:
‘Ponder well how his back, bloodstained all over, is like the sky
Where, after the deluge from our flood of sins has abated,
There appears the most beautiful rainbow as a sign of God’s mercy!’

Israeli alto Noa Frenkel is a singer to watch, her reedy, richly-colored alto timbre commanding as she holds the listener within the tension of the moment. German-born bass Christian Immler, no newcomer to Israeli audiences, pleased the audience with his warmth and presence. Young Israeli bass Assif Am-David was highly commendable and convincing in the role of Pontius Pilate. The two vocal quartets, positioned separately, were outstanding in the verbal and musical detail addressed , in their vocal quality, shaping and expressiveness. Not to be ignored is the fine core of JBO instrumentalists.

Parrott’s conducting of the Johannespassion was every bit as detailed and emotional as the work itself. I later talked to David Shemer, the JBO’s musical director, who told me that he and his players find Parrott’s unconventional, almost dancelike style of conducting very articulate. Shemer’s program notes were interesting and thought-provoking. The performance, itself, was deeply moving.

J.S.Bach – St John Passion
Jerusalem Baroque Orchestra
Andrew Parrott(UK) – conductor
David Shemer- musical director
Emily van Evera (UK), Ayala Sicron – sopranos
Noa Frenkel (Holland-Israel), Avital Dery – altos
Marc Molomot (USA), David Nortman – tenors
Christian Immler (UK-Germany), Assif Am-David – basses
The Mary Nathaniel Golden Hall of Friendship, YMCA Jerusalem
March 10, 2009

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