Turner leads Emmanuel Music in a soulful and affecting “St Matthew Passion”

April 1, 2017 at 12:56 pm

By Aaron Keebaugh

Ryan Turner led Emmanuel Music in Bach's "St. Matthew Passion" Friday night.

Ryan Turner led Emmanuel Music in Bach’s “St. Matthew Passion” Friday night.

Emmanuel Church on Boston’s Newbury Street is a cornerstone of the city’s musical life. For 46 years, it has been home to weekly performances of Bach’s cantatas, which are presented as part of worship services. The church’s performance organization, Emmanuel Music, has also frequently turned to large-scale works, including staged operas by Handel and Mozart.

Bach’s passion settings remain something of a specialty for Emmanuel Music, and recent seasons have witnessed performances of the St. John and reconstructed St. Mark Passions. Friday night at Emmanuel Church, the orchestra, chorus, and a group of superb soloists delivered a soulful St. Matthew Passion in its first performance under director Ryan Turner. 

St. Matthew is one of the most emotionally intense pieces in the repertoire, and listening to it live can be an overwhelming experience. Emmanuel Music’s version sat halfway between a strict historically informed reading and contemporary rendition. The orchestra used modern instruments for the double orchestra, save for a viola da gamba. But its forces were small, which retained the nimble and delicate textures of the music. Recent research has also uncovered that Bach’s original double chorus employed about twelve singers in each group, and Emmanuel Music’s ensemble closely followed that format.

The chorus for this performance contained some of the finest singers in Boston. The choir delivered a soft, flowing rendition of the opening chorus, “Kommt, Töchter, helft mir klagen.” The lines of the concluding “Wir setzen uns mit Tränen nieder” moved in gently swelling phrases.

Leading with gentle waving gestures, Ryan Turner coaxed a sensitive reading that managed to mine the power and drama from one of Bach’s greatest masterworks. The chorales form the heart of this piece, and Turner shaped each with tender ebb and flow to the tempo and subtle dynamic shading. “Was mein Gott will, das gscheh allzeit” was punched out with energy, while the many verses of “O Haupt voll Blut und Wunden” brought a tinge of sweet sorrow. The Boston Children’s Chorus, seated in the balcony, complemented the principal chorus with pristine vocal blend in “O Lamm Gottes unschuldig” and “O Mensch, bewein dein Sünde groß” from part one of the work.

The soloists, most of whom were drawn from the ranks of Emmanuel Music, were consistently excellent.

Tenor Charles Blandy brought bright power, fine diction, and conviction to the punishing role of the Evangelist, his voice coloring the music in sorrowful shades when he told of Jesus’ death. As Jesus, bass Paul Max Tipton found an avuncular presence and tender warmth.

Alto Margaret Lias shaded her performance of “Buß und Reu” with effective vocal tremors to conjure feelings of repentance. Soprano Kendra Colton, in “Blute nur, du liebes Herz!,” brought a sense of operatic drama. Matthew Anderson, with his radiant tenor, delivered crisp and percussive lines in the recitative “O Schmerz!” Solo oboe spun weeping phrases around him in the ensuing aria “Ich will bei meinem Jesu wachen.”

The duet between soprano Jessica Petrus and alto Deborah Rentz-Moore in “So ist mein Jesus nun gefangen” was svelte and nimble, their voices combining into a single soft instrument. Bass David Kravitz sang with clear, penetrating tone in his aria “Gebt mir meinen Jesum wieder!” Violinist Danielle Maddon’s churning accompaniment was pitchy at first, but she warmed into the part as the aria progressed.

Alto Emily Marvosh’s rich, dark voice brought a sense of righteous anger to her recitative “Erbarm es, Gott!” In her aria “Können Tränen meiner Wangen” her lines quivered with intensity. Bass Dana Whiteside delivered the most affecting performance of the evening in his aria “Mache dich, mein Herze, rein.” His sound was heartwarming as he sang about the desire to bury Jesus’ body himself.

The orchestra provided plush and silky accompaniment throughout, and many fine soloists contributed lyrical lines in support of the singers. The standouts were violinist Heidi Braun-Hill, who spun rosy-toned phrases to match Krista River’s poignant singing in “Erbarme dich, mein Gott,” and viola da gambist Laura Jeppesen, who performed her solo in “Komm, süßes Kreuz” with silvery tone and delicacy.

St. Matthew’s Passion will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday at Emmanuel Church. emmanuelmusic.org

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Turner leads Emmanuel Music in a soulful and affecting “St Matthew Passion””

  1. Posted Apr 03, 2017 at 9:35 am by Don Allen

    I was at yesterday’s performance and I still haven’t gotten over it. This was one of the most intense experiences I have ever had at a concert and I have been going to concerts since I was a child (thanks to my dear mother); I am now closing in on 75.

    This review is very accurate, in my view. Dana Whiteside, who is gifted with a magnificent instrument and the brains, knowledge, and musical instincts required to use it well, delivered a Mache dich worthy of any of the great singers we have heard. I would say the same for Krista Rivers; her Erbarme dich brought tears to the eyes.

    A magnificent work (I would have no trouble calling this the greatest musical work produced by the human race thus far, and the way things are going, I don’t expect that to change soon) performed at a level completely worthy of it.

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