A Lively St. John Passion from the Czech Ensemble Baroque

1 April 2018, 1:00
A Lively St. John Passion from the Czech Ensemble Baroque

The oratorio St John Passion by the composer Johann Sebastian Bach is one of the indisputable jewels of the world’s music literature. Many conductors try to surprise the audience with a new, fresh, energetic and expressively rich conception of the composer's music. Among the bodies willingly accepting this difficult challenge is the Czech Ensemble Baroque under the direction of conductor and artistic director Roman Válek. They gave their version of one of the most frequently performed of Bach's works on Good Friday in Brno’s Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary. 

St John’s Passion brings out the most dramatic elements of Bach's music. Even in the powerful opening chorus they provoke the listener to awed humility. The suggestive charge and frequent changes in musical parts – the Evangelist’s recitatives, the arias of Jesus, Pilate and others, the short, punchy choruses of the crowd, graceful arching meditative choruses - all this ensures that despite the length of the work the music remains fresh and vivid. This diversity however showcases many musical factors that a conductor and performers must not forget, if they want to achieve the most authentic form. The Czech Ensemble Baroque has proved in the past that its interpretation is historically informed and vocally and orchestrally up to the job. However did it manage to use this orchestra to take into account all the elements of such a demanding and important work? Although there is no simple answer to most of these questions, here we can afford to make an exception. The answer is a clear yes. The Czech Ensemble Baroque prepared a true delicacy for early music lovers.

From the first bars of the iconic input choir Herr, unser Herrscher it was obvious that Roman Válek decided to interpret the sound of this work in an unusual way. What is usually a long cry and invocation of the Lord was replaced by a short, clipped, but equally dramatic address. This introduction made it quite clear to the audience that, although the Czech Ensemble Baroque honour and observe convention, they are not afraid of new sounds. In accordance with the interpretive tradition of this body here quite a fast pace was chosen, but one which perfectly resonated with the meaning of the work. Despite audible individuality of the voices of choir members they formed a single organic whole. In the relatively limited number of artists the characteristic features of voices necessarily stand out from the music score, but due to accurate work with dynamics however the chorus remained uniform and musical communication full and colourful.

A significant portion of Bach's oratorios use soloists and their number is directly proportional to the length of the performance. Often the threat is that although most singers honour their qualities, a fault appears for example in the character of Peter, Pilate, Jesus or God forbid directly in the Evangelist. It is not just about intonation or authentic historical performance; a performance may fail through lax expression, lack of technology or operatic mannerisms. The Czech Ensemble Baroque knows that with their reputation this would not be acceptable. And all the soloists - and I stress this - lived up to the high expectations placed on them by Válek. The expression was in most cases be refined in absolute detail, the soloists knew what they were singing, and the result showed it. Every word that could be highlighted or decorated made its way to the ears of listeners. The excellent first tenor aria from Jaroslav Březina can serve as an example. Peter, after he denies Jesus for the third time to the servant of the high priest, regrets his deeds and berates himself in an intense aria. Brezina made audible his disgust by singing just that word "servant". Michal Marhold also gave Pilate a human depth and believable behaviour - from his sovereign majesty Pilate says to the Jews that he sees nothing wrong in Jesus with solid certainty confidence and a sense of superiority. When in response to their complaints about the designation of Jesus as King of the Jews he replied: "What I wrote, I wrote," it was clear from Marhold’s speech that further resistance would have dire consequences. Mainly due to the soloists the characters came alive and their emotions and motivations were acted in an entirely believable manner. Jesus was performed with no less quality by Roman Hoza, graciously accepting his fate. The delicate scene at the Cross, in which Jesus says to his mother: "Woman, behold your son," kept the audience engrossed in silence. At this point Hoza’s interpretation reached its peak. 

The brightest figure in the oratorio however is the evangelist himself. James Kubin, who took on this difficult role showing lightness, properly chosen dynamics, intonation and confidently full expression and highlighting the wide range of emotion that is typical for a Bach oratorio. Attention should also be paid to the consistent changes in the diction of the more melodious parts of this musical work - usually the text citations or the inscription on the cross. All the singers deserve praise for fully measured, informed and appropriate use of vibrato.

The orchestra successfully captured this masterpiece without faults aside from a slight faltering in the intonation of the cello. Here it is also in place to compliment the successful monitoring of internal consistency of the work. It could be heard that Roman Válek devotes special attention to this. And it was here that the Czech Ensemble Baroque and Johann Sebastian Bach in the Brno performance most demonstrated the power of musical communication.

  1. S. Bach Passio Secundum Johannem, BWV 245

Evangelist: Jakub Kubín

Jesus: Roman Hoza

Pilate: Michal Marhold

Peter: Tadeáš Hoza

Maid, Servant: Markéta Böhmová, Tomáš Kočan

Soprano: Lenka Cafourková Ďuricová and Romana Kružíková 

Alto: Monika Jägerová

Tenor: Jaroslav Březina

Leader: Petr Zajíček

Choirmaster: Tereza Válková

Conductor: Roman Válek

Church of the Immaculate Conception of the Virgin Mary

Comments

Reply

No comment added yet..

The Slovak group Kiero Grande, two Polish bands and the Brno musician Jan Fic with his solo project progressed from the competition Blues Aperitiv to the international festival Blues Alive in Šumperk. Jan, or Honza as he is informally called, who under the label Red Bird Instruments makes cigar box guitars and other instruments, is otherwise known as the frontman of The Weathermakers, playing their raw blues even at Porta. And in several festivals he appeared as leader of the mock country group The Honzíci. The interview that follows took place on the occasion of the release of the solo album Město (City), which Jan Fic together with the producer Martin Kyšperský officially presented on 17 December in Brno’s Stereo – Vinyl Culture Shop.  more

The last week full of musical events culminated in the final round of the Central European Jazz Competition organised by the “neighbouring” jazz festivals – JazzFestBrno and Poysdorf Jazz & Wine. This cross-border musical project has a promising future: the first year of the jazz competition in its final afternoon offered six half-hour blocks of the finalists, who were a surprise with their musical range and the quality of their musicianship.  more

The main programme focus of this year’s Janáček Brno 2018 international festival is the performance of all of the composer’s musical-dramatic works. After the popular success of Káťa Kabanová and the precisely staged The Makropulos Affair yesterday it was the turn of the Polish ensemble Teatr Wielki from Poznan with a performance of Jenůfa, a work which, twelve years after its Brno premiere in 1904 opened the doors to the international musical scene to Leoš Janáček.  more

Many diverse and qualitatively varied opera performances were heard at the festival Janáček Brno 2018. Every now and then a production appears that divides Brno audiences into two irreconcilable camps, one overjoyed by the innovativeness, many non-musical references and bold direction, while the others lament the illogical symbolism, departures from the libretto, seeing it even as a slap in the face of the composer. The song cycle The Diary of One Who Disappeared from the Belgian ensemble Muziektheater Transparant as directed by Ivo van Hove and with compositional annotations by Annelies Van Parys is controversial in the true sense of the word. The scenographer Jan Versweyveld, the costume designer An D’Huys and the dramaturge Krystian Lada also took part in this new stage form. The solo roles were taken by Ed Lyon, Marie Hamard and Hugo Koolschijn, accompanied on the piano by Lada Valešová and the choral academy De Munt/La Monnaie also took part in the production. The Diary of One Who Disappeared was performed yesterday in the hall of the Mahen Theatre.  more

The second of the accompanying folk concerts of the Janáček Brno festival took place at the Reduta Theatre. And it seems that the bar, set by the first concert, has remained high. The show, called Chodníčky k lidové písni (“Roads to folksong”) was to present one of Janáček’s favourite regions in Slovácko – Horňácko – to the audience. This job was taken on by a cimbalom band with the fitting name of Musica Folklorica.  more

Two servings of first class musical mastery and each one different. One was musical show that was demanding for its audience, where only informed listeners perceived it as a reminder of tragic events. And the second was a lighter dance-like evening with songs that could be sung by the whole of the hall at the Sono Centre. The organisers of JazzFest Brno have shown that no two jazz quintets are alike. Both of the leaders in the last two concerts of this year’s festival rightly got the stormy applause they deserved. At the same time you could hardly see on stage two such different musicians as Terence Blanchard and Richard Bona.  more

On Tuesday the tones of folk song resounded in the courtyard of the Rectorate of Brno University of Technology on Antonínská street in Brno. The first folk accompanying programme of the festival Janáček Brno 2018 carried the poetic name Kvítí milodějné (which might translate as Merciful Flowers), borrowed from the composer’s eponymous arrangements from a unique song cycle of Moravian folk poetry. The entire programme had an interesting and attractive concept, in which there were performances of three versions of folk material from the collections of Leoš Janáček. All three were close not only to the composer himself but were also generally popular.  more

The international music festival Janáček Brno 2018 yesterday opened its sixth year with a new production of the opera The Cunning Little Vixen. The performance was directed by the artistic director of the Brno Opera Jiří Heřman, the stage sets were designed by Dragan Stojčevski, the costumes by Alexandra Grusková and the lighting was by Daniel Tesař. The role of Bystrouška was taken by Jana Šrejma Kačírková, the forester was Svatopluk Sem, Zlatohřbítek was played by Václava Krejčí Housková, Schoolmaster/Mosquito by Ondřej Koplík, Priest/Badger by Jan Šťáva and Harašta by Roman Hoza. The orchestra of the National Theatre in Brno performed under its chief conductor Marko Ivanović, who was also responsible for the musical production of the work.  more

The Cameroonian musician Richard Bona is returning to Brno after a year and a half. While last year the audience in the Janáček Theatre had their breath taken away by his Afro-Cuban project Heritage, this time he is coming with his international group Richard Bona Group. When on 25 November in the Sono Centre we are admiring Bono’s virtuoso guitar playing, it would be good to be aware while he may have inherited his sense of rhythm and general relationship to music from his ancestors, his current level is the result of his hard work. At least this was something he emphasised in our interview, in which we also covered Bono’s love of flamenco and for his club, which he recently opened not far from Paris.  more

Brno City Theatre has come out with another premiere of a Czech musical in the form of Big. This musical novelty, taken from the film of the same name, will entertain children, adolescents and their parents. This musical tale is truly for all the generations. Big is a family comedy, in places also a fantasy spectacle, in others a romantic sweet piece about love or an exciting story of an impatient little boy, in which however all ends well.  more

On Friday 19 October the big band Cotatcha Orchestra performed in HaDivadlo with an important foreign guest: the trombonist, composer and arranger Ilja Reijngoud. After the review of the concert we are now also bringing you an interview with this Dutch jazzman, holder of a Latin Grammy and other significant awards. Reijngoud answered our questions shortly before the Brno concert.  more

The promising developing contemporary Czech jazz scene, which includes well-functioning festivals and two universities with the teaching of jazz (in Brno and in Prague), is creating the background not just for little ensembles, but also for large orchestras. In Prague there is the excellent Concept Art Orchestra, which under the leadership of the trumpeter Štěpánka Balcarová focuses on the work of contemporary Czech authors in the middle and younger generation (the so-called Prague Six). In Brno the B-Side Band, led by the trumpeter Josef Buchta, sells out big halls and plays at major festivals, cooperating with the popular Vojtěch Dyk, but has not given up on its original jazz repertoire and also cooperates with foreign stars of the calibre of Kurt Elling. Another Brno big band, the Cotatcha Orchestra, under the leadership of (yet another trumpeter) Jiří Kotač, has not yet met with such great success. Despite this the ensemble, put together from students and teachers of the jazz department at the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts, is fiercely and healthily making progress in our scene and given the quality of the musicians it has at its centre, I believe that it will in the coming years win a unique place for itself.  more

The jubilee 25th year of Olomouc’s Autumn Festival of Sacred Music is drawing to a close. Before the finale with Verdi’s Requiem yesterday there was a concert from the Brno chamber group Ensemble Versus under Vladimír Maňas with an ensemble of renaissance wind instruments accompanied by the continuo provided by Capella Ornamentata under the artistic leadership of its founder Richard Šeda in Olomouc’s Church of the Annunciation (Kostel Zvěstování Páně). Both bodies are mainly concerned with the interpretation of the religious music of the 16th and 17th centuries and have engaged in many other joint projects. In 2017 this cooperation led to a CD of the works of the late renaissance composer Nicolaus Zangius, whose works were heard at Sunday’s concert.  more

The Exposition of New Music festival has been confronting Brno listeners with contemporary Czech and world music for thirty-one years. Over this time, the festival’s concerts have gained a devoted audience wishing to experience the non-traditional musical works and experiments themselves. The autumn part of this years’ festival begun yesterday with the vocal cycle Canti del Capricorno by the Italian composer Giacinto Scelsi, performed by solo soprano Lore Lixenberg.  more

This week in Prague and Brno the English singer Chris Norman, founding and long-time member of the popular band Smokie, will be performing. His concert in the Brno DRFG Arena will be on Saturday 6 October and he will perform at the Prague Forum Karlín two days earlier.  more

Editorial

Jakub Hrůša will become the fifth Chief Conductor and the musical director of the prominent German orchestra the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra Players – the Bavarian State Philharmonic Orchestra (Bamberger Symphoniker – Bayerische Staatsphilharmonie) in the 2016/2017 season. It was announced today during the morning ceremony, which was attended by Jakub Hrůša himself, by Bavaria’ Minister of Culture Dr. Ludwig Spaenle together with Marcus Rudolf Axt, Chief Executive.  more

The choir at VUT in Brno is seeking new vocal talent. The audition will take place next week.  more

The 21st edition of this competition is being organized by the Musical faculty of the Janáček Academy of Music and Performing Arts in Brno. The competition focusing on young artists playing the violin and on string quartets is being held in cooperation with the Leoš Janáček Foundation.  more

The club, which is starting its 25th concert season, has been reconstructed and is now reopening to jazz musicians from both the domestic and foreign scene. The season will introduce bands as well as individuals such as Ostrich Quartet, Ambrose Akinmusire, Robert Balzar Trio, Vilém Spilka Quartet or Nuf Said.  more

The current 17th year of the festival is divided into two parts. The first part, called Intake of Breath, will take place during October and it will be the celebration of the 20th anniversary of the Filigrán dance ensemble. The other part, called Exhalation, will introduce international guests and dance themed movies in November.  more

Old buildings are seemingly silent, but they resonate with memories and lives vanished long ago; this is where they get their distinctive atmosphere from. Watch the video recording of a concert in the former MEZ factory hall in Židenice.  more

The winner of the solo violin category is Amalia Hall from New Zealand while the winner of the string quartet category is a Slovak ensemble called the Mucha Quartet.  more

The new operetta Studio Brno presents the operetta The Cousin from Batavia by Eduard Künneke for the first time.  more

The Brno vocal group Megafon has recorded a debut album full of successful hits and authorial compositions.  more

The Makropulos Affair opera record directed by David Radok and with music production by Marek Ivanovič won two awards at the International Television Festival Golden Prague which took place last night. The recordings won the Foundation VIZE 97 prize and a prize in the category of Performing Arts. The premiere of the opera was on 21 November 2014 during the Janáček Brno festival.  more