One of the negative consequences of the Minnesota Orchestra lockout is a reduction in opportunities to hear the Minnesota Chorale. This weekend served as a reminder of what an outstanding ensemble this is.
When it comes to Bach, Chorale director Kathy Saltzman Romey has both passion and proficiency, which she amply demonstrated in an all-Bach program performed in St. Paul and Wayzata this weekend.
Bach wrote Cantata 140 “Wachet auf” (“Wake up”) for liturgical use on the Sunday in November before the start of Advent. It’s based on a famous chorale (or hymn, in which the congregation participated). It has a familiar melody, still included in many contemporary hymnals.
The opening movement, a fantasia on the tune, was sung with radiant joy, while still maintaining absolute clarity in the complex vocal textures.
Romey was equally successful conducting musicians of the Minnesota Bach Ensemble. She made perfectly clear the intricate dialogues between the instruments. The musicians produced a warm sound that beautifully supported the voices.
The centerpiece of the cantata is a Tenor Chorale, a celebratory restating of the tune. Tenor John deCausmeaker lacked the final degree of refulgence to completely express the music’s ecstasy.
Surrounding that are two duets for bass (Gregory Dokken), as the voice of God, and soprano (Kristi Bergland), as the soul, the second ending in a moving canon. Unfortunately, the beautiful soul too often overpowered the voice of God.
In the finale, an exuberant chorale, it was hard not to play the congregation and sing along. The singers’ passion was infectious.
Bach wrote more than 300 cantatas (he was required to produce one every Sunday), but only five motets, each written for funerals. These are more virtuosic works, written for double choir. The Chorale and the instrumentalists were separated on either side of the organ. Bach fully exploited the antiphonal possibilities of this arrangement.
The Chorale performed two motets, “Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied” (“Sing to the Lord a new song”) being the most demanding -- and rewarding. The first movement includes a piece of amazing counterpoint, in which each of the eight parts enters independently. The Chorale handled it with ease.
This soaring music speaks to the soul. Let’s hope the lockout is resolved soon, so that we can have more chances to hear this magnificent ensemble.
William Randall Beard writes about music.