Bach’s Chamber Choir celebrates 20 years of music

Bach’s Chamber Choir celebrates 20 years of music

By Georgia Pampel, Music Critic

Rockford’s own Bach Chamber Choir has had a special celebration this year, observing the 20th anniversary of sharing their love of the baroque master with Rockford’s serious music lovers.

On Saturday evening, May 3, at the First Lutheran Church, along with the Bach Chamber Orchestra, and five soloists, all backed by Trish Rooney on the organ to fill in the role of continuo, they gave us the entire Bach B-Minor Mass, one of the most massive and challenging works in the choral repertoire.

Challenging, yes, because of the almost symphonic way in which Bach expanded the sections, calling for wide variation of tempos, rhythms and character, to hold the interest for the entire evening, while staying true to the text, with so many contrasts of mood, texture, and emotion. To go from the grief expressed in the descending dissonant intervals in the Crucifixus (Christ’s Crucifixion), and then charge into the joyous Et Resurrexit (His Resurrection), driven by the brilliant sound of the baroque trumpet lines (actually three trumpets, according to my score), and then move on to the third element in the basic creed, declaring belief in the Holy Spirit, expressed by the bass soloist, backed by simply two oboes and the continuo (organ and cello) was impressive. But to do all of this with a sense of continuity, a seamlessness, as the ongoing flow of a single musical genius, reminds us all of why that genius can still hold our attention today, nearly three centuries later.

Wayne Hatwich, the founding director of the Bach Chamber Choir, decided on this occasion to sing as part of the chorus, recalling the origins of the chorus when a group got together just for the fun of singing Bach with each other.

And as part of a growing tradition, Herr Bach himself (portrayed as always by R. J. Undsey) showed up in his period outfit to open the evening with a brief anecdote reminding us of the importance of the development of the “tempered” scale that gave composers a fresh range of possibilities for their art.

Under the leadership of Eric Johnson, the concert was a delight from the opening notes on to the final lines that appropriately call on the eternal powers to grant us peace.

The soloists were Soprano Amy Conn, Mezzo Kathy Pyeatt, Alto Usa JacksonNemeth, Tenor Stephen Noon and Bass Peter Van De Graaff, who was fortunately available to do his masterful job when the scheduled bass, Chris Dickerson, became ill.

They all gave exemplary demonstrations on how to contain a singer’s natural impulse to let loose, but rather held themselves to the character of the work, with clear intonation and thoughtful phrasing, letting the music be the star of the evening. Lovely voices all, and I’ll come to hear them again and again, given the chance.

And, of course, part of the special warmth of a good Rockford concert is to see all the familiar faces of old friends, reminding us that the music and the audience that supports that music are certainly to be counted among the things that make Rockford special, no matter what Money magazine may find to needle us with next!

I look forward to many more years of the Bach Chamber Choir, a local treasure beyond compare.

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