Ensemble brings full-blown ‘Passion’ to Kauffman Center By LIBBY HANSSEN Special to The Star
The Spire Chamber Ensemble made its Helzberg Hall debut with one of Johann Sebastian Bach’s most monumental works: the “St. Matthew Passion.” This group, formed in 2010, is quickly making a name for itself, bringing artists from across North America to present performances in period practice in Kansas City.This work was most likely first presented on Good Friday in 1727 in Leipzig, Germany. But after Bach’s death his work fell out of fashion.About 100 years later, a young Felix Mendelssohn conducted a reduced version of the passion, prompting renewed interest in Bach’s music. However, the work wasn’t performed in its entirety again until 1912. This past Palm Sunday, 100 years after that, the full “St. Matthew Passion” came to the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.It follows the last few days in the life of Jesus, with scenes from the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, Judas’ betrayal, the denial of Peter, Pilate’s judgment and the crucifixion. Sung in German, it uses biblical texts and features works from the liturgy and poetry that emphasize the emotional impact of the story.Ben Spalding, founder and artistic director, marshaled considerable forces for this performance, all the while staying close to the original intent. Along with the Spire Chamber Ensemble and the Spire Baroque Orchestra, he conducted the William Jewell College Schola Cantorum, the Trinity Choir of Trinity Lutheran Church and members of the Lawrence Children’s Ambassador Choir.They presented the work in a continuous concert format. Charles Wesley Evans sang the role of Jesus. David Adams was the Evangelist, the narrator who bears the lion’s share of the text. He offered the proclamatory recitative with bell-like clarity.Soloists, who were also members of the chorus, served as characters in the drama. Arias throughout offered reflections on the action. There were numerous laudable performances, chiefly by Kyle Stegall, Erik Gustafson, Patricia Thompson and Linh Kauffman.The ensemble sounded its best at full double-chorus, double-orchestra force, especially during the settings of the familiar Passion Chorus and the turbulence after the crucifixion.While tuning of these delicate period instruments is often hazardous, many of the musicians performed exceptionally, notable the continuo players on cello, bass and organ, and the winds. Solos by violinists Elizabeth Feld and Edwin Huizinga and flutist Colin St. Martin, which accompanied arias, were exquisite.The performance opened with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in D major, performed by Jan Kraybill on the hall’s Casavant organ.
© kansas city star 2013