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Tippett: Powerful performance

  • Jul 10, 2012
By Mark Mandel From OregonLive/The Oregonian  July 7, 2012 Ears are still ringing from the Oregon Bach Festival's powerful performance of Michael Tippett's "A Child of Our Time" Friday night at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Emotional power is something Tippett's oratorio has had from the start, inspired as it was by the same assassination (of a German diplomat by a Jewish youth) that gave the Nazis a pretext for the pogrom known as Kristallnacht. Tippett deepened its emotional power when he buttressed its musical structure with five African American spirituals, which speak for oppressed peoples everywhere and universalize his themes of compassion and reconciliation. And emotional power came through in the singing of the festival chorus and expressive soloists Tamara Wilson and Tom Randle. Sonic power, too, is part of the piece, which has plenty of fortissimo markings, especially for the chorus. Up front at Trinity, the choral fortissimos were ear-splitting: mine were throbbing by the halfway point of a performance in need of a larger space, such as Silva Concert Hall at Eugene's Hult Center, where a second performance followed Saturday night. At the other extreme, pianissimo instrumental passages -- for two flutes, say, or for high strings -- had to compete with a cooling fan. Under batonless Matthew Halls, the festival's artistic director designate, who takes over for Helmuth Rilling after the 2013 festival, the chorus achieved a wide dynamic range, impressive crescendos and decrescendos, and in "When shall the usurer's city cease?" a light madrigal texture. Wilson, a young dramatic soprano, was superb -- spectacular at the end of her first solo when her melismas on the "Ah!" syllable overlapped the first spiritual. Randle's lean, focused tenor gained in strength and ardency as it ascended. Markus Eiche's baritone was focused but dry, his English a bit accented. The orchestra sometimes covered mezzo Anita Krause. The evening began with Bach's Mass in G Major, BWV 236. Halls contrasted a weighty Kyrie with a fluid Gloria, and the chorus didn't oversing. The standout soloists were young Hanna Elisabeth Muller, her soprano pure yet strong, and Randle, partnered by Allan Vogel's lovely oboe obbligato. The others were mezzo Sophie Harmsen and baritone Tyler Duncan. If Tippett were as big a draw as Joshua Bell, the festival might have placed this concert in spacious Schnitzer Hall and spared our ears. As it was, empty places in the Trinity pews proved that the Schnitz wasn't feasible. Those places should have been filled by opera and voice lovers, for it's rare that three singers as outstanding as Wilson, Randle and Muller perform at the same Portland event. Randle is a veteran still in his prime who appears on several opera DVDs: his Bajazet, the tragic father in Handel's "Tamerlano," and his Molqi, the lead terrorist in Adams' "Death of Klinghoffer," are unforgettable. Wilson, who has sung Verdi heroines around the world, and Muller, who has won multiple singing prizes, already sound like major artists.