A mixed bag of Bach

By Robert Pherigo   Wed, Dec 11, 2013

 

Ben Spalding led an account of Bach’s Cantata BVW 70 “Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet!” with soloists Suzanne Hatcher, Patricia Thompson, Tytus Abrahamson, and Eddie Straub to mixed results.

A mixed bag of Bach

Trinity Lutheran Church and conductor Ben Spalding are offering a treasure trove of Bach cantatas. Begun this fall, the Bach Cantata Series will perform twenty Cantatas per season and being that there are 200 sacred cantatas penned by Bach we’re looking at a good 10 years! Last Saturday they offered “Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet!” BVW 70 (Watch! Pray! Pray! Watch!) during the 5:30 service. The forces used were four singers and seven instrumentalists. The results were a mixed bag.

Balance was the main issue in the opening chorus, the tenor aria and the closing chorus. The organ, playing the continuo part, was too loud. In the opening chorus the moving sixteenth notes, so vital in giving the music a sense of buoyancy and direction were, much of the time, hard to hear. Also the singers, instead of being at the forefront were, at best, just part of the mix and in the last chorus were in danger of being covered up. This balance is something that can easily be fixed and, given the obvious care and commitment of all involved, would greatly improve future performances. Putting aside the balance problem, the small chamber orchestra, consisting of some of the best players in the area, played very well. The expressive obbligato playing of cellist Sascha Groschang and oboist Margaret Marco were especially notable. Trumpet player Phillip Clark played his fanfare figures sharply and clearly, without overpowering the other players.

The vocal quartet—soprano Suzanne Hatcher, mezzo-soprano Patricia Thompson, tenor Tytus Abrahamson, and bass Eddie Straub—showed varying degrees of skill and expression. Thompson has a rich, beautiful tone and in her aria she phrased beautifully and showed her mastery of melismas in Bach’s creative setting of the word “fliehen”(flee). In his first recitative, Abrahamson could have elucidated the text better, but was much improved in his second recitative and with a pleasing tone sang his aria with conviction and a wonderfully free upper range. Hatcher also sang well but there were a few pitch problems and a feeling that the aria had not really settled into her voice yet. Straub sang without the fire and spit that his first recitative requires “Be frightened, you impertinent sinners!”. He has a rich lower range but when getting into his upper range the richness leaves and the sound becomes hollow. His aria was sung accurately but more needed to be done to illuminate the meaning of the words.

Regardless of the criticisms above and keeping in mind how challenging Bach’s vocal lines are due to his instrumental approach, the opportunity that the Bach Cantata Series offers to this area’s young singers is invaluable. With 93 more cantatas to perform, Spalding will keep refining his approach and this series will go from strength to strength, to become a treasure for area Bach lovers.

REVIEW:
Trinity Lutheran Church Bach Cantata Series
BWV 70 “Wachet! Betet! Betet! Wachet!”
Saturday, December 7, 2013
Trinity Lutheran Church
5601 W. 62nd St., Mission. KS
For more information, visit www.tlcms.org

Top Photo: Ben Spalding