It was cold and snowy outside Powell Hall this weekend, but inside it was all warmth and light as David Robertson and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus unwrapped an early Christmas present in the form of the first three cantatas from Bach's "Christmas Oratorio."
It has been a heavy month or so for the St. Louis Symphony Chorus. On November 16th they performed Britten 's dramatic Peter Grimes at Powell, followed by a repeat performance at Carnegie Hall on November 22nd, Britten 's centenary. At the same time they were rehearsing the first three cantatas of Bach 's 1734-35 Christmas Oratorio for concerts this Friday and Saturday (December 6 and 7) with David Robertson and the orchestra.
Writing in the Larousse Encyclopedia of Music, Donald Paine notes that Benjamin Britten's "War Requiem," written for the consecration of Coventry Cathedral in 1962, "may stand as representative of his genius and of the theme that recurs throughout his work: the indictment of human folly as it shows itself both in the tragedy and wastage of war and in the corruption of human innocence."
For the second week in a row, Maestro David Robertson has taken a well-known piece in the standard repertoire, plugged it into a high-voltage socket, and produced a performance that crackles with electricity.
As I have noted before, Ward Stare (who completed his tenure as Resident Conductor of the symphony in 2012 and is now in demand as both and operatic and symphonic conductor) is someone to watch.
A contemporary composer conducting the symphony in a program of his own music isn’t usually the sort of thing that generates long lines, either at the box office or at the rest rooms during intermission.
When the phrase “inside baseball” pops up in the performing arts, it usually refers to a work that assumes some additional knowledge on the part of the audience in order to be fully appreciated. The jokes in many of the Hoffnung Music Festival recordings, for example, take it for granted that the audience is pretty familiar with the standard classical repertoire.
When a performance of Handel’s oratorio “Messiah” includes a countertenor among the soloists and a theorbo (a giant-sized lute with open bass strings for a fuller sound) in the orchestra, you’d be justified in expecting the results to be heavily influenced by what we now know about Baroque performance practices. And with Christopher Warren-Green’s “Messiah” at Powell Hall this weekend, you’d be right—most of the time, anyway.
The St. Louis Symphony Chorus and their director Amy Kaiser covered themselves with glory Friday night with powerful performances of Schoenberg's "Friede auf Erden" ("Peace on Earth", a fiercely difficult piece for a cappella chorus from 1907) and the Mozart/Süssmayr "Requiem" under the baton of Jun Märkl. In between, Daniel Lee demonstrated once again what top-notch cello playing sounds like in Haydn's D major concerto.
One might ask why a good Lutheran boy like J. S. Bach would choose to compose a Catholic Mass, let alone infuse it with the very essence of his genius. But more importantly, we should see the Mass in B minor not as a tribute to any one religious path, but as a monument to the spiritual yearnings of all people, regardless of their faith.