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Hohe Messe Authentic Baroque Splendor

Arts Journal North Carolina, Jeffrey Rossman

Tuesday evening, March 12, 2012, will surely remain a memorable date for those lucky enough to attend Carolina Performing Arts presentation of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra & Choir in a magnificent performance of J.S. Bach's Mass in B minor, given under the direction of the legendary Ton Koopman in Carolina's resonant Memorial Hall. (...) The nimble Koopman, who bounded onto the stage with the energie of a 25-year-old rockstar, has made a career out of his love for all things Bach. The organist, harpsichord player and conductor founded the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra in 1979. Known worldwide from his rock-solid knoledge of historic performance practices and for his award-winning recordings of the Bach cantatas, Koopman maintains a formidable schedule of recording, research, conducting. His amazing energy and obviuos love for this music colored the entire evening. Those lucky enough to sit where we could get glimpses of his face in profile during the performance saw what can only be described as an endless reservoir of joy and boundless exuberance. At the end of such a lengthy work, when any conductor could be forgiven for showing sighns of exhaustion, Koopman continued to nod and beam broadly (his trademark) and looked as if he could do the whole thing over again - gladly!
Koopman's infectious energy translated into an emotionally rich, rhythmically alive, incredibly nuanced performance of Bach's masterpiece. The orchestra, ably led by concertmaster Catherine Manson, was fully engaged throughout, clearly looking privileged, to do Koopman's bidding. What a joy it was to watch such effortless playing! Obbligato instruments - the flutes, oboes, and bassoons - and the fine trumpets and horn, gave the audience a special treat by standing up in selected movements. The musical body language was fun to watch, the incredible physicality of the phraising simply ourstanding. Soloists Teresa Wakim, soprano, Bogna Bartosz, alto, Tilman Lichdi, tenor, and Klaus Mertens, bass, were uniformly excellent, poised and perfect throughout, as able to be light ("Christe," duetto) as dark ("Agnus Dei"). The flexibility of these singers allowed a suitable wide range of expression and effortles lines, no matter how quick the tempi. As with the orchestra and chorus, vibrato was not on display here, only a natural richness in voices capable of capturing the tiniest detail and always perfectly in tune. The chorus, with the lion's share of the work, never flagged. These singers are obviously the cream of the crob: impaccable musicians highly trained in the art of expressive ensemble singing. From the poignant darkness of the famous "Crucifixus" to the boisterous "Et resurrexit", the chorus knew exactly how to interpret each segment for maximum effectiveness.