Bach-Haydn program led by masterful Rilling
By James Bash
Bach Festival artistic director and conductor Helmuth Rilling led the festival orchestra and chorus in a lively and spirited program of music by Bach and Haydn at the Hult Center on Friday.
Sharing the stage with Rilling and his musical forces was a forest of 24 microphones - many placed at the top of tall poles - used to record Haydn's "Creation Mass" in the second half of the program, in preparation for the 2007 release of the last six Haydn masses, on the Hanssler Classic Label.
The concert began with Bach's Orchestral Suite No. 2 in B minor, written in the 1730s for the Collegium Musicum of Leipzig, a musical society of students and professionals that met in Zimmermann's coffee house. Like Bach's other orchestral suites, No. 2 features a variety of French dance music inspired by the court of Louis XIV, who demanded appropriate music to open his court ballets.
Flutist Lorna McGhee joined a chamber ensemble of 16 strings and a harpsichord for a charming and delightful musical tour, her beautiful, elegant notes fluttering wonderfully above the rest of the orchestra. During one of the dance movements, the orchestral sound ceased, letting McGhee, principal cellist Susannah Chapman and principal harpsichordist Boris Kleiner create an exquisite musical passage that was soft and simple.
Next on the program was Bach's Concerto in C Minor for Oboe and Violin. Although renowned as a keyboard virtuoso, Bach also was a skilled violinist.
Violinist Rahal Rilling - Helmuth Rilling's daughter - and oboist Allan Vogel soloed in this remarkable piece, sweeping playfully through the upbeat first movement with grace and a twinkle of the eye. In the second movement, Vogel applied a creamy tone to the initial melody, and Rilling matched him perfectly with her violin, setting off a sublime series of exchanges. Their spark and panache made the finale exciting and memorable.
The concert concluded with Haydn's Mass in B-flat Major, which he wrote in 1801 to celebrate the name day of Princess Maria Hermenegild Esterhazy whose husband, Prince Nikolaus Esterhazy, employed Haydn as his Kapellmeister. Written for orchestra, choir and soloists, this mass was nicknamed the "Creation Mass" because it quotes a few measures from Haydn's "The Creation" oratorio.
Helmuth Rilling conducted the "Creation Mass" with comprehensive understanding of the music, constantly inspiring the orchestra, chorus and soloists to give the right volume, clarity and drama to match the text.
Soprano Donna Brown, alto Roxana Constantinescu, tenor Lothar Odinius and bass Markus Eiche sang beautifully, although Odinius' tenor could have been a little louder.
The choir plays a prominent role in the 40-plus minutes of this mass. The Bach Festival Chorus sang with conviction and responsiveness to the many gestures and nuances of Rilling's conducting style, swelling into majestic sound at his command.
Rilling also made expert use of an extended podium that allowed him to divide his attention easily between the choir and the four soloists.
He directed all of the pieces from memory.
Hats off to the maestro.
James Bash lives in Portland and writes for the Willamette Week, The Columbian, The Register-Guard and many other publications.