Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ruhe sanft - but do so quickly!

After a friend told me yesterday that gee, that piece is hard, it's so heavy on the soloists, and we've just had a long rehearsal, what will it do for the audience .....I expected to hear all of Bach's St Matthew's Passion tonight at the Filharmonija.

Suffice it to say that they can perform the half they cut next year; it'll make a full concert. Bit of a strategic mistake to print the whole text in the programme....Only on this morning's run I had listened to part of the whole version recorded by the Dunedin Consort from Edinburgh, and noticed some unfamiliar bits. It's often performed incomplete, what with it lasting 3 hours (which my runs don't) - a couple of years ago in Berlin I almost asked for my money back....

The Lithuanian chamber orchestra and the choir 'Jauna Muzika' were conducted by Neil Thompson, a fairly regular visitor to Vilnius, from the UK. Given that although there were two orchestras, as required in the score, but only one organ, two flutes and two oboes, I wondered if the parts they cut were those which effectively would have had four flute or oboe parts and two organ parts. I haven't got the time to do a note for note analysis - though reading the score during this performance involved a lot of flipping over of pages! (I've taken part in a performance with two organs - I was turning pages at one and my maths/music teacher was glaring at me from the organ opposite!)

Generally the performance went well. It was quite standard, with a choir of about 30 (could have been worse if the Kaunas State Choir had sung), five soloists (four after the interval) and the band. None of that newfangled stuff where there might be 16 or so singers all doing solo roles and choir parts at the same time. That'll come to Lithuania, too. Eventually. Maybe we should invite the Dunedin Consort.

The soloists were quite good, though it's scary that when you have the score in front of you, even without reading glasses, how you notice the intonation moments. Jekatarina Tretjakova had a quite a good Bach voice, no wobbles - which would have been totally inappropriate. If she had injected some blood into her arias it would have been even better. 'Blute nur, du liebes Herz' means serious pain and agony. That did not come across. Kestutis Alcauskas was good as the Evangelist, and had a very clear enunciation. He translated that 'Mein Gott, mein Gott, warum hast Du mich verlassen' beautifully. Ignas Misiura was stuck with doing Jesus, Judas and Pilate at the same time - this is where our arrangement falls down - and his Greek?/Hebrew? version of the same phrase was heartbreaking. Poor Mindaugas Zimkus had only one aria in the first half, whereas Laima Jonutyte (who I have never heard before) had a number of mezzo arias. Both did well, and were fully in control.

The orchestra soloists playing the obbligato parts all did better than I had expected; occasionally breaths were taken where none were needed, but generally, for a band that does not play much Bach church music, they did very nicely indeed. We could let them out of the country with this.

The tempi were verging on the brisk, I thought. Music involving sleep should not be played fast. Two arias were thus affected, and the final chorus - a meditation, as my friend in the band described it - would not have got anyone to meditate. You know how it is when you want to fall asleep in a hurry? You don't. This could have been played much more restfully.

I wonder when we will hear it again?

Postscript to my comments about the St John's Passion with a Robert Wilson scenography - came across his name in 'The Rest is Noise'. It seems he is a minimalist producer (put that together with minimalist music, or Morton Feldman, and oy vey....). There could be a case for having so little movement in Baroque music what with each piece (aria etc) having one Affekt - but on the whole I think I prefer a Passion to be Passionate....