Singing about the "Byrd & the B's"
Though the title was cheeky, especially when considering it was performed in Old St. Patrick Oratory, one of Kansas City's oldest Catholic buildings, Musica Vocale's "Byrd & the B's" was a delight for sacred sensibilities.
Kansas City audiences had a rare opportunity Sunday afternoon to hear the stunning acoustics of Old St. Patrick Oratory, aptly exploited by Musica Vocale and their director, Arnold Eply. The Oratory is Kansas City's third oldest Catholic structure and one of its best acoustic spaces. In its concert of sacred music, Musica Vocale claimed itself as ".the first Kansas City music ensemble to offer a concert in this remarkable church.", wherein they performed the works of Bach, Byrd, and Bruckner in a concert titled "Byrd & the B's."
The concert began, unannounced and inconspicuously, with Johann Sebastian Bach's Prelude and Fugue in G major, BWV 541. As the audience carried on in pre-concert conversation, organist Ann Marie Rigler fired off the prelude's opening flourish from the organ loft, drawing attentive ears to Bach's flashy organ prelude. Rigler kept control of the quick, forward-spinning rhythms in the opening selection and displayed her technical expertise during the frequent passages of virtuosic pedal playing. This composed control also characterized much of the fugue.
Bach's Komm, Jesu Komm, BWV 229 followed. Bach's antiphonal rang particularly well in the space and produced a wave of undulating sound. Highly imitative music comprises the first part of Bach's motet; this squirrelly texture seemed to cause some hesitation in a few vocal entrances as new fugal subjects were presented. A simple chorale?spiced by Eply and Musica Vocale with some emotive musical choices?comprised the second half and concluded the motet.
Following Bach's Lutheran works was a Catholic Mass for five parts composed by William Byrd. The late-Renaissance English composer's setting was a perfect selection for Old St. Patrick Oratory. The choir gave special attention to the Mass' text, ensuring that each vowel was unified. The result was a sonorous wash of well-tuned polyphony which rang throughout the space. Interspersed throughout the mass were interjections from a second group of chamber singers. The smaller ensemble created expressive shifts in the texture as fuller sounds suddenly became intimate, drawing attention to a new portion of the mass' text. Their passages in the Gloria and Credo were particularly effective.
After a brief intermission, the concert concluded with Anton Bruckner's Mass in E minor. Performing two Mass settings next to each other caused some program-monotony as listeners heard one rendition of the familiar text and then endured a repeat performance filtered through nineteenth-century German sounds. Granted, about two hundred years of music history separates these settings, and each work has inherently different characteristics, but Bruckner's conservative, polyphonic music in which he set the text has direct roots in Renaissance polyphony?the effects of which produced a rather stagnate second-half of the concert.
Nevertheless, the musicians' treatment of Bruckner's setting was handled and executed with as equal care and professionalism as exhibited in the night's earlier selections. Joining the singers at the front of the Oratory was a band of twelve wind instrumentalists. The homogenous tone within the regal brass section was superb. It matched the woodwinds' intuitive sense of musicianship which was prominently displayed amongst the players in the treatment and exchanges of Bruckner's spinning, ascending lines. The instrumental ensemble and choir were, in general, equally balanced. The singers should be commended on their skillful execution of the chromatic, fugal "Amen" in the Gloria, as well as their adeptness in vocal polyphony in the stunning Sanctus.
With their afternoon of sacred music, Musica Vocale thoroughly displayed the acoustic range of Old St. Patrick's Oratory. Hopefully, audiences will have the opportunity to experience again and again the musical gems, performed by the city's ensembles, which fit perfectly in this reverberating space.
Byrd & the B's
Sunday, November 4, 2012
Old St. Patrick Oratory
806 Cherry St. Kansas City, MO 64106
For more information, visit http://www.musicavocale.org/
Top Photo: Arnold Epley