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Tippett’s oratorio an impassioned plea for peace

  • Jul 10, 2012
By James Bash From Oregon Music News July 10, 2012 Led by Matthew Halls, the Oregon Bach Festival’s orchestra, chorus, and soloists gave an impassioned performance of “A Child of Our Times” on Friday, July 6th at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. It was quite an accomplishment, considering the heat wave that seemed to have settled inside the building. Even though the male performers (orchestra, chorus, and soli) were excused from wearing their jackets, Hall, the OBF’s artistic director designate, carried onward in full regalia. The sauna-like conditions did not stop him from whipping up his forces and delivering an emotionally rewarding performance Tippett’s masterful oratorio. Tippett wrote “A Child of Our Time,” as a reaction to the shooting in 1938 of German diplomat by a young Jewish refuge and the Nazi’s response with the deadly pogrom that started with Kristallnacht. Modeled on Handel’s ”Messiah” and Bach’s “Passions,” Tippett’s oratorio is a large scale work for orchestra, chorus, and four soloists with 30 sections (consisting of solos, choruses, and group ensembles) that are divided into three parts.  Five of the choruses drew directly from African-American spirituals: Steal Away”; “Nobody knows the trouble I see, Lord”; “Go down, Moses”; “O, by and by”; and “Deep river.” They offer a balm and a sense of hope to the oratorio’s narrative, which mirrored troubled events before WWII officially started. The Berwick Chorus of the OBF sang with fervor and purpose. Because I sat on the side of the nave that was in front of the women’s voices, I heard them more distinctly than the men. But the choir’s diction was absolutely stellar, and that really counted when it sang snake-like phrases, such as “When shall the userer’s city cease,” and words like “refuge,” which could easily be garbled. Tenor soloist Tom Randle created a sense of urgency with his powerful and beautiful voice, especially when he cut above the chorus in “Nobody knows the trouble I see, Lord.” Bass Markus Eiche made each of his recitatives an integral part of the story, and his operatic chops came in handy in the final Scena “when he sang “God overpowered him, the child of our time.” Soprano Tamara Wilson soared above and beyond the call of duty in several solos, but perhaps most impressively in “How can I cherish my man in such days?” Mezzo-soprano Anita Krause sang with conviction, but sometimes her voice was overpowered by the orchestra. The orchestra responded well to Hall’s directions for the most part. Early on, he signaled twice very clearly for pianissimos but the orchestra missed it all together, but later they did a much better job of picking up on his directions. Hall impressively knew the piece by heart, including all of the text, because as he turned to cue a singer or a section, it was easy to see him mouth the words. The concert opened with an outstanding performance of Bach’s Mass in G Major (BMV 236).  The chorus made the Latin text easy to follow by delivering crisp, percussive consonants like the Ks inKyrie. Bass soloist Tyler Duncan articulated his solo, Gratias, with care, including some tricky ornamentation that could easily have gotten lost in the acoustic. His lowest notes could have used a little more weight. The soprano Sophie Harmsen and alto Hanna-Elisabeth Müller sang their duet,Domine Deus, with a lovely attention to detail. A bit more volume from Müller would have made their performance more balanced. Tenor Tom Randle excelled in the Quoniam, and his performance included impressively holding a note for an extra-long time. Oboist Alan Vogel, cellist Tanya Thomkins, and keyboardist Boris Kleiner (creating a harmonium-like sound) accompanied Randle with sensitive expressiness and terrific attention to detail. Conducting the piece without a baton and from memory, Halls kept a steady beat with his right hand and used his left to tailor the phrases very effectively.  After the piece finished, Randle gave his bouquet of flower to Vogel and Halls graciously handed his to Thomkins as applause filled the church.