Boston Baroque offers a meditative choral program mixing the familiar with rarities

March 9, 2013 at 2:48 pm

By Keith Powers

Martin Pearlman conducted Boston Baroque in a choral program Friday night at Jordan Hall.

You can always expect concerts with fascinating repertory from Martin Pearlman and Boston Baroque, thoroughly researched and enthusiastically performed. Friday evening’s “De Profundis” program at Jordan Hall was no exception, a spirited exploration of sacred vocals works from Carissimi, Charpentier, Bach and Handel.

With mostly spare instrumentation for each of the selections, the concert formed a showcase for the Boston Baroque chorus, with the evening’s numerous soloists drawn from the ranks. Not every singer would thrive at the front of the stage, but in the whole the evening was a lesson on the variety necessary for a top-notch vocal aggregate.

Jepthe by the 17th-century composer Giacomo Carissimi is an early oratorio, setting a text from the Book of Judges. It tells the story of the successful warrior of the same name, who drives the Ammonites out of Canaan with the Lord’s help. Fatefully, he has promised the Lord to sacrifice the first living thing he sees after the battle, and it turns out to be his only daughter. Thus the oratorio comes in two parts: the successful battle, and bitter lamentation that follows, as Jephte’s daughter pleads for one last pleasure, to venture alone in the mountains and meditate her fate.

A small string section (no winds or horns) and organ continuo accompanied the singers. The vocal lines, up until the final lamentation, were mainly direct and unison, propelling the tragic narrative. Multiple soloists stood out from the group, but tenor Owen McIntosh as the heroic warrior and soprano Teresa Wakim as his daughter delivered the most touching vocal work—Wakim especially, singing the striking aria Plorate colles (with haunting one-word echoes from the chorus sprinkled throughout) at the climax. The choral finale, Plorate, filii Israel, with slight dissonances emphasizing the tragic narrative, was a setting of great emotion and complex textures.

Charpentier’s solemn Missa, Assumpta est Maria, with a five-voice choir and multiple soloists, was generally simple in style, save for an extended Kyrie and intricate string writing that accompanied the Agnus Dei. A string trio opening to the Sanctus spotlighted the work of concertmaster Christina Day Martinson, principal second Sarah Darling and violist Laura Jeppesen.

Bach’s spare funeral cantata, Gottes Zeit ist die allerbeste Zeit, continued the dark tone, with its almost bizarre instrumentation (two recorders, two cellos, violone and continuo) and small vocal requirements. A mezzo aria, In deine Hände, with Katherine Growdon stepping out forcefully from the ensemble, formed the musical and textural fulcrum for the work, a mediation on the between state of life and death.

A selection from Handel’s Chandos Anthems slightly softened the dark musical mood. The first measure of the overture is a sharp dotted rhythm, strongly accented and upbeat phrasing, which all morphed into a fugal pattern in three voices. Owen McIntosh, a lyric tenor singing with strong emotional insight to the text, stood out with his aria The Lord preserveth. A choral fugue, Tell it out among the heathen, also showed enthusiasm and clarity.

The program repeats 8 p.m. Saturday in Jordan Hall. bostonbaroque.org

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