Sunday, November 14, 2010

From Ah to Amen

Sacred music was the order of last evening at Alice Tully Hall. As part of the White Light Festival, the Latvian National Choir, conducted by Tõnu Kaljuste and accompanied by the Orchestra of St. Luke's from NYC, sang Bach's motets Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied (c. 1726-27) and Komm, Jesu, Komm! (before 1732). According to the program notes, "unlike the cantatas, with their many recitatives, arias, and duets, the motets entail choral music throughout."

The highlight of the evening was the U.S. premieres of two of Estonian composer Arvo Pärt's works. He composed Stabat Mater in 1985 for three voices and string trio, but rescored it for mixed chorus and string orchestra, the version GH and I heard last night. The work began with a piercing cry "Ah!" and ended with a humble assent "Amen." Its minimalist style was both postmodernist and medieval. After hearing it, I want to write a poem about Mary, Mother of God, for my next book Infinite Variety.

The second work Adam's Lament (2009) resonated less with me. The text, written by the monk Silouan of Athos (1866-1938), grieved over man's separation from God, and spoke of compassion for all suffering mankind. The music seemed less distinctive.

The Choir was superb technically, to my untrained ear. They sang Bach rather coldly, I thought. Their singing of Pärt, however, was more than technically perfect. It was full of the warmth and melodrama I associate with the Russians.

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