freisinger: St. Matthew Passion

just a quick write up of the absolutely fantastic Bach Mathäus Passion performance by the Boston-based Freisinger Chamber Orchestra this past saturday. Through the years, I’ve attended a few including twice in intimate church settings. That first time, we were asked to not clap but silently leave the church at the end, similar to how you leave good friday in silence. It’s a bit different this time, but similarly in a smaller chamber of South Boston church. The mood is different: on the one hand we have native speakers performing with a clear understanding of the text, on the other hand we have non-native speakers singing mostly in solo without the choir supports. At times it sounded like the arias were sung within academic context rather than to convey the emotion.

BUT! that’s the only minor minor quibble i’d say about the performance. Let’s start with the best thing: an intimate room (probably 30m long) full of wonderful wonderful musicians and very good singers. Peter Freisinger mentioned sometimes you perform the piece with the musicians you have, in the case, the minimal: 4 oboists (1 incredible player included), 4 flutists (1 amazing amazing player included), 1 bassoonist, 4 violinists and 2 viola players, 2 cellists, 2 basses, and 8 main singers (and 3 extra), all divided into 2 groups to cover for the supposed 2 full choirs + 1 children chorus + 2 orchestras as Bach had intended. I was wondering how it’d work, and the “chorus” at times sounded thin.

But the amazing thing is that because the group is so thin, every instrument / singer was important and highlighted the interweaving of voices and cello/flute/oboe to the finest details. In term of voice, both sopranos were good, 1 mezzo i like more than the other (only because the 2nd mezzo’s voice was a bit thin and was lost a bit within the violins during “Erbarme Dich” and didn’t express the emotion of the aria as deep as I had hoped), and one bass i like significantly more than the other. It was a great relief to have that 2nd bass singing “Mache dich, mein Hertz, rein”, one could hear great details in the music (but again the emotion of the aria was not fully expressed in the voice). The evangelist was AMAZING; a Mathäuspassion won’t go very far without a very good evangelist to narrate along. I enjoyed greatly his recitatives, especially when I knew the piece well enough to even know his music (via listening) and didn’t need a translation. Finally, a last shout out to the violin section (2 on each side): amazingly warm and beautiful sound!!


This group is entirely made up of musicians who were/are graduates/students of the various music schools in the area. Such beautiful music at personal spacings which truly allows you to become part of it, not very often one gets such luxury. Altogether, a performance I won’t forget soon.

oh, one more small quibble: it’s the fastest I’ve ever heard. Peter Freisinger, though doing an amazing amazing job, sped the whole thing along to under 2.5 hr, sometimes at the expense of the emotion, “Können Tränen meiner Wangen” was zipped along at hurricane-wind speed…

I still sitting on decision to attend the passion by the Handel & Haydn Society at the end of this month in Symphony Hall… As i always say, these intimate pieces, sitting way distant away really takes away so much…

Edit [04-May-2012]: In earlier version I erroneously wrote the musicians are volunteers. This error, as well as ones regarding clarinets/strings have been corrected.

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About thả diều
writing-challenged opera-addict

10 Responses to freisinger: St. Matthew Passion

  1. Eyesometric says:

    I love the fact that the orchestra came from all over the world. Very often these ad hoc performances have a wonderful spontaneity which is missing from those who play/sing together often. If you really want to feel “part of” then maybe it’s time to join a choral society or choir??

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  2. stray says:

    High marks for immediacy go to Jonathan Miller’s street-clothed semi-staging, which is worth checking out if it’s ever done again:

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  3. zalel says:

    Hi Tha,

    I’d like to get your permission to use the orchestra’s photo on the Freisinger Chamber Orchestra website. Will you please contact me to make arrangements?

    Thanks,
    Nicky

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    • thả diều says:

      hi Nicky, you can use the photos I posted here by just downloading them; they are quite blurry due to low light. If you click on the photos you should get the full resolution ones.
      cheers,
      thadieu

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      • zalel says:

        Thanks Thadieu! If you can think of any other shots that might work, please let me know. I will send you a link once it’s been added.

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  4. Hi Thadieu,
    Thanks very much for coming to our St. Matthew Passion. I’d love to forward your link to the singers and orchestra, but wanted to ask if it were possible to omit one thing; the singers and chorus are not volunteers, so if you could leave out the word “volunteered,” that would be great. Yes, there were 4 violins and two violas. No clarinet, though.
    Many thanks for the thoughtful comments and nice picture! If you’d like, send me your email and we’ll keep you posted. Btw, I heard the H and H St. Matthew performance. It was very good, and different from ours.
    Sincerely,
    Peter

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    • thả diều says:

      Hello Peter, thank you for stopping by. I made the corrections you’ve suggested. Thanks again to both you and the musicians for that afternoon, it was truly the highlight so far of my 2012. I also attended the H&H performance, and it was also very nice (after I moved up some 20 rows to get closer.) Regards, -td

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  5. Thanks again Thadieu!
    Just one more thing- could we change 6 violins to 4 violins and 2 violas??
    Sincerely,
    Peter.

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