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A Zelenka rarity

Trinity-St Paul’s Centre, Jeanne Lamon Hall
04/28/2016 -  & April 29*, 30, May 1, 2016
Johann Sebastian Bach: Cantata “Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten”, BWV 202
Jan Dismas Zelenka: Missa Omnium Sanctorum, ZWV 21

Dorotheee Mields (soprano), Kim Leeds (mezzo-soprano), Jacques-Olivier Chartier (tenor), Jonathan Woody (bass-baritone)
Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra and Chamber Choir, Ivars Taurins (conductor)

D. Mields (© Annelies van der Vegt)

The concert opened with J. S. Bach’s Wedding Cantata, sung by German soprano Dorothee Mields whose pristine tone helped render the piece airy and elevated. This was beautifully aided by the blithe pictorial effects from the 13-member orchestra. The text refers to kissing, but also ”das Band der keuschen Liebe” (the bond of chaste love) rendering the work as an improbably innocent expression of marriage coming from a man who married twice and fathered 20 children.

A performance of a Bach cantata is a bit of a rare event and this one turned out to be a refreshing treat.

Jan Dismas Zelenka (1897-1745) is one of many composers in the shadow of Bach and Handel. The great part of his career was with the musically active court of Dresden. His Missa Omnium Sanctorum (Mass for All Saints) was one of three masses composed near the end of his life not with performances in mind but as a summation of what he wanted to express in music. The program notes refer to his “original and sometimes eccentric use of harmony”. Whether “eccentric” or not, it certainly is distinctive, with energetic (even restless) orchestral passages underlying the most of the vocal/choral parts. There were times when it was a bit of a relief when a more relaxed vocalism held sway over less filigreed accompaniment, as in the Benedictus. Ivars Taurins conducted with the right balance between attention to detail (of which there is a lot) and facilitating the overall structure.

As one would expect, Dorothee Mields’ silvery, gleaming soprano rose serenely above the orchestra and 22-member chorus. The other three soloists were the winners of a vocal competition, held in January, that focussed on these performances of the Zelenka mass. Instead of holding private auditions, applications from mezzo-sopranos, tenors, and baritones were solicited and nine finalists (three of each vocal type) chosen from more than 65 applicants. The final was a public event. All three winners did well, although none quite matched Mields’s level (although the high voice typically achieves starry prominence).

Tenor Jacques-Olivier Chartier (from Quebec) rang out nicely in the opening Kyrie. The two lower voices typically had more supporting parts. Both are from the USA. Mezzo-soprano Kim Leeds is active in the Boston area (and elsewhere), and bass-baritone Jonathan Woody is a member of the Choir of Trinity Wall Street in New York City.

The Zelenka mass, almost an hour in length, is quite the ambitious undertaking. The work seems never to have been published. The spidery score is in a Dresden library and can be viewed on line. Tafelmusik keyboardist Charlotte Nediger compiled the performing edition used. The work might not have the impact of higher profile masses, but Tafelmusik’s expansive seasons allow it to explore the byways as well as the highways of the repertoire.

Michael Johnson



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