Sunday, December 7, 2008

J.S.Bach, Mass in B minor BWV 232

The Israel Camerata Jerusalem opened its “Voices and Instruments” series of the 2008-2009 season with J.S.Bach’s Mass in B minor BWV 232, conducted by the orchestra’s musical director, Avner Biron. Soloists were Israeli artists - soprano Aviv Weinberg, alto Noa Frenkel, tenor Eitan Drori and British bass Jonathan Gunthorpe. The choir was the New Israeli Vocal Ensemble, directed by Yuval Ben-Ozer.

In 1733, Bach dedicated a “Kyrie” and “Crucifixus” to Friedrich Augustus II, Elector of Saxony, who had converted to Catholicism, hoping to become king of Poland. During the following fifteen years, Bach expanded this Missa Brevis, borrowing from his German cantatas and other existing works, both sacred and secular, producing a compendium of all the styles he had used in writing arias and choruses throughout his life; his use of elements from Gregorian chant and stile antico writing to an almost galant idiom gives the work a sense of timelessness. It is a remarkable feat that Bach shaped a coherent sequence of movements from all the different pieces, at the same time building the finished work’s general structure in keeping with his concern for symmetry. As a deeply religious man, the composer utilized the most emotional means at his disposal for the Credo – the centerpiece of both the work and his own conviction. The Mass in B minor, as we know it today, was assembled a year or two before the composer’s death. Bach was never to hear this monumental work performed during his lifetime; in fact, Bach scholars believe the work was only first performed in its entirety in 1859 in Leipzig, possibly due to the fact that there had been no complete edition of it till 1845.

Biron, with excellent instrumentalists and a very fine choir at hand, presented a performance which emphasized the contrasts, textures and emotional content of the work. The New Israeli Vocal Ensemble, under the guidance of Yuval Ben-Ozer, produced a wonderful choral blend of textures, fine legato singing and a gamut of emotions – from compassion, to tranquility, as in the “Kyrie”, to the joy of the “Gloria”, to the tragic message of “Qui tollis” - controlled, mysterious and understated, with attention to each dissonance and tension. The choir’s singing was bright and accurate in the “Cum sancto” with articulate, brilliantly executed melismatic lines. The “Et incarnatus” was a magical, moving movement, with Biron changing the dynamics with each harmonic change. The “Confiteor”, beginning quite fast, suddenly plunges the listener into the mysterious Adagio section of harmonic tension fraught with diminished chords which bristle with tritones, moving back to a Vivace e Allegro, alive with brassy pomp.

Alto Noa Frenkel performs opera and repertoire from Renaissance- to contemporary music. Her rich vocal color and sensitive reading of the work delighted the audience, from the well-phrased, expressive “Laudamus te”, to the clearly defined “Qui sedes”, the latter involving superb playing of the obbligato oboe on the part of Muki Zohar.

Tenor Eitan Drori (b.1985) is heard performing much early music. He handled his “Benedictus” aria with competence, imbuing it with feeling and color; the flute obbligato in this aria was a treat.

Not to be ignored was the much fine instrumental playing, here and there a little too loud for the singers, but adding excitement and interest in Biron’s interpretation of this much-loved work. The printed program is attractive and informative; translation of the Latin text of the Mass into Hebrew was not always accurate. It was no wonder that the Henry Crown Symphony Hall was packed to capacity. It was an uplifting evening and a fine beginning to the “Voices and Instruments” series.

Johann Sebastien Bach – Mass in B minor, BWV 232
The Israel Camerata Jerusalem
Avner Biron-musical director, conductor
Aviv Weinberg-soprano
Noa Frenkel-alto
Eitan Drori-tenor
Jonathan Gunthorpe-bass
The New Israeli Vocal Ensemble, Yuval Ben-Ozer-musical director
The Henry Crown Symphony Hall, Jerusalem Theatre
December 1, 2008

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