La Scena Musicale

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Passionate Bach at the OSM

By Hannah Rahimi 

For the second concert in this year’s Montreal Bach Festival, Kent Nagano led the OSM in a performance of Bach’s St John Passion, joined by the OSM Choir along with such acclaimed soloists as Sibylla Rubens, Christoph Genz and Markus Werba.

Montreal’s new hall, La Maison symphonique, proved a fine addition to the festival’s list of venues despite a rough start, when a small piece of the ceiling crashed to the floor just as the lights were dimming over the hall. Unfazed, Nagano calmly took the podium and proceeded to lead the orchestra in a dramatic yet refined rendition of the Passion 

In an interesting dramatic choice, soloists performed on podiums at various positions within the orchestra, walking gingerly amidst the instruments to get to and from their places. While this staging may have strengthened the unity between the sounds of voice and instruments, it seemed unnecessary, more visually distracting than musically enhancing.      

 As evangelist, German tenor Christoph Genz provided a lyrical narration of the drama, carrying the flow of the story with stunning clarity and smoothness. Slightly less at ease was Austrian tenor Martin Mitterutzner, who sang with rich tone but wasn’t always perfectly together with the orchestra, particularly in the aria “Erwäge, wie sein blutgefärbter Rücken.” Replacing contralto Ingeborg Danz, Canadian countertenor Daniel Taylor contributed his pure, otherworldly voice, most notably in a transcendent rendition of “Es ist vollbracht,” exquisitely accompanied by Margaret Little on viola de gamba. Under Nagano’s precise direction, the OSM choir breathed dramatic force into the choruses and floated above the orchestra in the chorales. 

A strong continuo section drove the performance, featuring cellist Brian Manker, organist Luc Beauséjour, bassoonist Stéphane Lévesque and Axel Wolf on lute. Oboists Theodore Baskin and Alexa Zirbel drew out the tensions and lyricisms of numerous arias, along with flutists Timothy Hutchins and Carolyn Christie, who provided a rich and unified tone.

Overall, a promising start to the Montreal Bach Festival, which runs until November 20, 2011.

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