Gary Thor Wedow, Conductor
(Juilliard 415 Website)
J. S. Bach St. Matthew Passion, BWV 244
And the Choir of Trinity Wall Street
Julian Wachner, Director
(Trinity Choir Website)
Dann Coakwell, Tenor
Takaoki Onishi, Baritone
Joseph Eletto, Baritone
Mary Feminear, Soprano
Eric Jurenas, Countertenor
Nathan Haller, Tenor
Elliott Carlton Hines, Baritone
At Alice Tully Hall
(Tully Hall Website)
Juilliard Press: Gloria Gottschalk
Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
March 17, 2014
Juilliard 415 is the school’s period instrument ensemble, and they performed admirably tonight on violin, viola, cello, viola da gamba, double bass, bassoon, flute, recorder, oboe, and organ. Gary Thor Wedow conducted with seasoned mastery. You could see the tight communication between conductor and orchestra throughout tonight’s very lengthy concert (about three and one-half hours). Performing Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, along with the Juilliard ensemble, were an ensemble of solo vocalists and the Choir of Trinity Wall Street, which is “the premier vocal ensemble at Trinity Wall Street” (program). The Choir records regularly on international labels with renowned orchestras. Maestro Wedow is known internationally as well, conducting with opera companies, chorales, and music festivals across North America.
Bach’s St. Matthew Passion was first performed on Good Friday, 1727, in an afternoon Vespers service. For a Passion novice, the Juilliard 415 program was deeply confusing. I heard similar comments at the intermission. Without a nominal synthesis (a stage introduction would have been suitable) of an hours-long musical dialogue (although a two-page program description and an English translation were included for those who could follow the choral German lyrics and for those who could discern which character’s text was being sung in the moment. Above stage supertitles, common at the opera, would have been useful. Characters, not in costume or even matched photo-to-role/s, in the program, appear and disappear through stage wings to center stage. Moreover, the Evangelist, Dan Coakwell, was a substitute, with no program image. I must say I was truly impressed with the aficionados, within the audience, who did appear to follow the text, word for word. But, for this writer, the Passion was best appreciated in the gestalt.
This Passion is one for the Easter season, as it re-creates the crucifixion of Jesus, with impassioned imaginary dialogue, between Jesus, the Evangelist, Peter, Pilate, Judas, High Priests, and more. The work has two parts, with Part I including the last supper, the Judas betrayal, and Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane. Part II includes Jesus’ trial, crucifixion, and burial. Some dialogue is sung in evocative stylization and some is spoken with little music. The chorus and soloists sing (as noted in the program text) Arias, Chorale passages, Recitatives, as well as character dialogue. In spite of the production’s vague clarification of matched characters and vocal text, as mentioned above, I chose to appreciate the full performance in the gestalt. Initially, I noticed the grand renewal of Tully Hall, with its sweeping, warm wooden shapes.
Then, I was transported by the eloquent and understated musical production, especially that of Eric Jurenas, countertenor, whose vocal range is incredibly impressive. When Mr. Jurenas merged song with Mary Feminear, soprano, in Part I, they sounded at times like viola and violin. The musical mystery abounded with ethereal tonality. In fact, at one point in Part II, Mr. Jurenas bound his voice to a solo violin passage, to poignant effect. Ms. Feminear sang with robust clarity, and, in combined vocal harmonies, she exuded warm, yearning tones. Takaoki Onishi sang the role of Jesus with baritone brio and strong stage presence, while Joseph Eletto, also a baritone, sang the roles of Peter, Pilate, and Judas with expressive gesture and grandeur. (As mentioned previously, it was almost impossible to discern which character’s text was being sung, as Mr. Eletto sang three roles, not to mention the lack of delineative notes for the non-character roles. Yet, the greater musical experience was satisfying.) Dann Coakwell, tenor, sang the role of Evangelist with soaring persuasiveness. Another tenor solo, Nathan Haller, brought refreshing drama to his vocal appearances, but, it was baritone, Elliott Carlton Hines, who caught my eye and ear with virtuosic, vocal intensity and engagement with the audience. Surely, we heard a few rising, operatic stars tonight.
The Juilliard 415 ensemble played with a maturity and professionalism that was well beyond the years of the youthful musicians. In particular, flute and oboe solos were elegant, and the scintillating strings melted into Tully Hall. The Choir of Trinity Wall Street kept a close eye on Maestro Wedow, as did the ensemble and soloists, making the experiential gestalt worth the expansive evening. Of note, Choir soloists occasionally joined guest artists, front stage, for independent vocal passages. A generous audience accolade followed.