Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I Got Bit By The Nostalgia Bug

So my Mom and I were talking last night and I got bit by the nostalgia bug. My sister had some neighbors over for dinner and drinks and I was talking to the wife of the couple. Since we'd never met my mom mentioned the fact that I was the singer of all of my brothers and sisters. It was interesting because the woman was talking about how lucky I was that I had parents who encouraged me at a young age to pursue music. My mom made a comment to her that was something like "Well, he (talking about me) was never interested in sports in school." That couldn't be more true. We were both talking about this performance of Bach's St. Matthew's Passion. My mom was one of small groups of chaperons. I will never forget this experience with the GECC (now called the Anima Singers). It's one of those things in my early childhood that I can go back and re-evaluate the importance and significance and sheer magnificence of in my adulthood. I'll never forget this time in my life. Attending rehearsals with the CSO and the CSO chorus with Sir George Solti. I'll write more about this later but I wanted to put this review from the Chicago Tribune up to give outside people an idea of what an amazing, once in a lifetime experience this was. Please note the date of the review. 04/06/85. I would turn 10 years old later that year.

Solti, Cso Triumph In A Spiritual `Passion`

April 06, 1985|By John von Rhein, Music critic.

Every rendition of J.S. Bach`s monumental ``St. Matthew Passion`` so transcends what we normally think of as a ``concert performance`` as to become an occasion of great spiritual devotion. Bach`s infinite musical variety gives the story of the crucifixion, death and burial of Christ a resonance that raises this pinnacle of German Protestant church music to the realm of universal art. Entering into this religious drama together, sharing its encompassing wonders, audience and performers become as one.

So it was Thursday night, when a large audience/congregation at Orchestra Hall celebrated the ``St. Matthew`` as given by the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, choruses and soloists under the direction of Georg Solti. No musical event of this tercentenary season is likely to impress listeners so deeply with the glorious scope of Bach`s music. One came away from it as one does from all extraordinary performances of this work: humbled, exalted, cleansed and profoundly moved.

This was the third complete account of the score with which Solti has favored Chicago, but what set it apart from all previous CSO performances of the ``St. Matthew`` was its use of the original German text. What may have been lost to the audience in verbal immediacy was more than offset by one`s being able to experience words and music as Bach`s congregation in Leipzig heard them--true to the spirit, shadings and accentuation of the Lutheran gospel. Such was the fervor of Solti`s splendid vocal, choral and instrumental forces that language was no barrier to communication. Although the performance ran 3 3/4 hours, including a half-hour break, it did not seem one minute too long.

As with his readings last fall of Handel`s ``Messiah,`` Solti adhered essentially to a romantic style of performance with an occasional, and not very cogent, bow toward baroque authenticity. The voices of the CSO Chorus numbered nearly 90 and were augmented, quite pleasingly, by some 50 members of the Glen Ellyn Children`s Chorus for the opening and closing choruses of Part I. The two chamber orchestras contained just under 50 players, including organ and harpsichord continuo. The choral aggregation was the right size to preserve the translucent quality of Bach`s polyphony while rich and full enough to convey the expressive power and gravity of the Passion drama. The precision and firm rhythmic underpinning of the orchestra, including several excellent obbligato solos, were always to be admired.

For the chorales that represent the meditations of the congregation, also for the great choruses that are the cathedral-like pillars of the ``St. Matthew,`` Solti had director Margaret Hillis` precise, well-tuned, expressively alert body of choristers. Whether as angry rabble, disciples, high priests or elders, they assumed every role asked of them with distinction, and the seven chorus members acquitted themselves well in their brief solos.

One`s only complaint involved Solti`s ``expressive`` shaping of several of the chorales, which were so slow, hushed and self-consciously pious as to inhibit a sense of forward motion.

Still, the vocal soloists were, without exception, very impressive, starting with Anthony Rolfe Johnson`s superb Evangelist, investing the long stretches of recitative with an open, clear tenor of great musical and expressive capability. Nor could one have imagined a better Jesus than Wolfgang Schoene, whose warm baritone and noble authority were very much in style.

Hardly less striking were bass-baritone Siegmund Nimsgern and mezzo-soprano Brigitte Fassbaender, to whom fell the most famous and beautiful arias, ``Mache dich`` and ``Erbarme mich``; Thomas Moser, the sweet-toned tenor; and Pamela Coburn (replacing Margaret Price), fresh and vibrant in the soprano arias.