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Melding of Bach thru music, film

  • Jul 11, 2006
From The Oregonian By David Stabler You know the road that's paved with good intentions? The Oregon Bach Festival took audiences pretty far down that road Sunday. The trip offered a live performance of the B Minor Mass by J.S. Bach, accompanied by an excruciating film called "The Sound of Eternity." Mixing visual imagery with classical music is fraught territory, but Aaron Copland's wide-open music works well with photographs of the prairies and canyons. But Bastian Cleve's trite film detracted from Bach's magnificent B minor Mass. There was nothing wrong with the live performance. In fact, it was one of the strongest in years. Hardly a year goes by at the Oregon Bach Festival without a performance of this profound musical prayer. And yet, a vibrant chorus alive to the words of the Mass, plus five outstanding soloists and an orchestra full of character breathed freshness into the familiar music. On the other hand, the film tried to convert Bach's religious devotion into a visual search for, in Cleve's words, "meaning, freedom, spirituality, self-contemplation, faith, hope and forgiveness." Call it a failed experiment. For two hours, we saw projected on a screen behind the performers a stream of silent still and video images, beginning with a flyby through the cosmos (naturally) while the chorus intoned its mighty plea to God in the opening section, "Kyrie eleison." Low points included a modern bride and groom smooching unabashedly in front of their guests to the graceful aria "Laudamus te," dancing snowflakes (really) in the soprano and tenor duet "Domine Deus" and an endless montage of changing human faces (the "family of man") in "Et in terra pax." The breakdancers were the worst, however. After the music unspools to a whisper in the chromatically tortured "Crucifixus," Bach's resurrection music rockets forth in a glory of trumpets and drums. Onscreen, we watched a bunch of baggy-jeaned breakdancers twisting and whirling, yellow sneakers 'coptering over their heads. Please, just give us Bach, straight up. At least the performance was straight up. Helmuth Rilling, the festival's artistic director, phrased the music in long lines, punctuated by thrilling vocal solos. Particularly good were German bass Marcus Eiche and Romanian alto Roxana Constantinescu. But the orchestra soloists were equally superb, including Guy Few playing trumpets flawlessly, Lorna McGhee and Janice Tipton, flutes, and a phalanx of oboists: Allan Vogel, Amy Goeser Kolb and Karen Wagner. If you closed your eyes, all but the music went away.