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..

After reconstruction the building of Czech Radio Brno has a new studio. Studio VII was figuratively baptised with the concert Living Notes from the series of folk concerts On a Moravian Note on Czech Radio Brno and Zlin. The musical dedication was made by the Horňácko group of Petr Mička, whose bandmaster is also one of the radio station’s editors. As guests they introduced the very talented young singers Anička Mičková and Janíček Pavlík and the Horňácko folk legend Martin Hrbáč. You can see the whole more than hour-long programme on the Czech Radio YouTube channel.  more

To record an album of famous jazz standards translated into Czech and yet not only to not come up short, but even to come across naturally and as much as possible even originally, is extremely demanding. Darek Neumann, “a kind of Brno character” (as stated in the booklet of the album) has managed it. The fact that it successfully balanced on the very borders of sentiment and pure blues, is much down to the lyrics of Ester Kočičková.  more

The mandolin player Martin Krajíček plays in various genres of groups. He has his own acoustic trio, is a member of the Jitka Šuranská Trio, plays in the “Mexican” group Mariachi Espuelas and in Cimbal Classica, plays klezmer and also teaches the mandolin. Since last year he has also been the organiser of the Mandolin Festival in Boskovice. This year it will take place from 8 to 10 June.  more

The group D.N.A. Brno, winners of the final of Porta in 2011, after a gap of four years have brought out a new album. Alongside a new surname for the bass guitarist (but it is still the same Barbora who years ago cofounded the then children’s and girls’ group) there was an important change in the line-up. Ondra Bojanovský (son of Aleš Bojanovský of FT Prima) has become a new member, playing rhythmic instruments. This has made it possible for the former percussionist Lenka Ručková to move over to the piano. Otherwise they remain as they were: D.N.A. is a group of young people, mostly classically trained, who like folk as well as classical. On the musical side they play it masterfully – there can be no objections to their skill, which is made evident in individual songs. The actual repertoire already on the last album has grown up from the childhood years and the innovation is of course, in this respect, a bit more mature. The band has not surprised us with any a sudden shift. But the result is a bit more mature and confident. And what has also been added are serious but at the same time credible themes.  more

This year Miloš Štědroň is taking part as artist in residence at the festival Concentus Moraviae. This was a welcome pretext for an interview. It covered his musical beginnings, his path to a musical education, his artistic development and his famous teachers, his inclination to the legacy of the musical avant-garde as well as why he suddenly kept a certain distance from it, how he dedicated himself to faithful and successful cooperation with the Theatre Goose on a String as well as how he was affected by the political changes of the period, how he overcame their pressure, how he worked with today’s interviewer a banned playwright, how he wrote for the wonderful Due Boemi di Praga, how he taught music and the history of music and worked as a populariser, how he knowledgably interpreted ancient music, but also Leoš Janáček, how he worked as an editor, how he became a significant and famous cultural figure, and not just in Brno, and how all the tasks he set himself in his varied and rich creative life were and are being fulfilled, and the joy he has had from it all.  more

Brno songwriter Michal “cosmonaut” Šimíček has long been seen as a man who knows how to write poetic, often multi-layered lyrics and link them with interesting music. Even the first album of his band Nevermore & Kosmonaut was for me was like a conceptual project. Although the songs lacked direct continuity in small details, lyrics and music, it was as if they were related to each other. In terms of novelty however Bleděmodré město (Pale Blue City) takes the band much further. This time it is a thematically sandwiched whole, dedicated to the city of Brno, worked out down to the last detail. “This conceptual album is our response to the current trend, where it has become a habit to do a single with a video and listen to the songs piecemeal, without order,” explains Šimíček in the album booklet, and this booklet is an integral part of this project and “story”.  more

Yesterday’s premiere in the Mahen Theatre added to the repertoire of the National Theatre Brno (NdB) the opera Così fan tutte by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in an interesting production by Anna Petrželková. In this tale of the imprudent temptation of human feelings will be appearing the soprano Pavla Vykopalová as Fiordiligi, the mezzosoprano Václava Krejčí Housková as Dorabella and Andrea Široká as Despina. In the male roles Ondřej Koplík was on stage as Ferrando, Roman Hoza as Guglielmo and Jan Šťáva played Don Alfonso. Also taking part in the performance were the choir and orchestra of the Janáček Opera of the NdB.  more

Pavel Koudelka, former drummer with the bands Dunaj, Z kopce, Krutnava and Mňága a Žďorp, recently became a member of two new groups. One of them is the drumming duo Zesilovači with Pavel Fajt and the second is Kucharski. In this group he works with musicians known from the Třebíč group FruFru – the vocalist Václav Bartoš, guitarist Vladimír Dudek and bass guitarist Adam Kotrba – and with the keyboard player Víťa Košíček. Kucharski will be giving their first concert on Thursday 17 May in Brno at the Stará Pekárna.  more

There were concerts by big bands at the start and finish of the spring programme of this year’s Jazzfest Brno. And both were supreme musical experiences. The Christian McBride Big Band as one of the three concluding concerts for their European tour for the first time performed in Brno’s Sono Centre. And it was great: crossover, entertaining and light playing, at the same time full of virtuosity and inventive and creative playing. “When we play together it is one big party,” stated the double bass player and bandleader Christian McBride at the start – and both he and his colleagues certainly confirmed that.  more

After a gap of three years Rózinky (which could be translated as Raisins) from the South Moravian village of Kozojídky have recorded their second album. The girls attend elementary art school together and their teacher Kateřina Mičková, who put the group together, still writes songs for them. The girls also perform together on radio and television shows and have played at various festivals from Folk Holidays in Náměšť nad Oslavou to TrutnOff. The question of whether the group will still be viable once its members grow up and mature (and probably have other musical interests and tastes) still hangs in the air. A little doubt already hangs over the disc Cvrkot (which could be translated as Chirp), but not as a threat but rather as a reason for the greater diversity on the album.  more

It never ceases to amaze me when I see the volume of ideas from Martin Kyšperský and his band Květy. Only in 2017, all this happened: Martin received the Anděl prize for his solo album Vlakem (“By train”). With Květy, they played the role of a communist era organisation band brilliantly, singing his “normalisation” period hits in the series Svět pod hlavou (“World under your head”) (which received a well-earned Český lev award a year later). In their new line-up with Ondřej Kyas, Květy released the brilliant album Komik do půl osmé (“A comedian till half past seven”) (it’s sad that it didn’t get an Anděl, but I think the culprit for that is the reducing of genre prizes and a “bit” of chaos in the new category of Alternative). The book Průvodce po albech a historii kapely Květy (The guide to the albums and history of the band Květy) was released and with it also the album Spí vánoční pták (“The Christmas bird sleeps”). In the meantime, Květy started the YM project, in which all three members will present songs in individual unexpected genres. It was begun by once again by Martin Kyšperský with a programme of country songs – the public premiere took place with the guest artist Petr Uvira in a live broadcast of Radio Proglas in December 2017. For 2018, the electronic songs of Aleš Pilgr and hopefully also the folktronica of Ondřej Kyas are in preparation.  more

The temperament and emotion of Roma music are well known. In 2016 the recording studio Amaro records was set up with the same verve and positive energy. The entire voluntary project was set up with support and guarantees from the IQ Roma servis organisation. The guiding spirit and person responsible is Petra Borovičková, herself an excellent singer and member of several bands. The originator of the idea was Gejza Horváth, a top Roma musician who earlier ran courses for young Roma musicians. He saw huge potential in them.  more

The group Billy Barman from Slovakia ended its Czech-Slovak tour at Brno’s Fleda. This series of concerts was interesting not only its purely acoustic form but especially for bringing together five singers from SĹUK (the Slovak Folk Artists’ Collective). This fusion of pop music and folk was originally created for the Tatra Flowers festival. Its unprecedented success, however, made the musicians decide to expand their repertoire and perform not only in the Slovak Republic, but also for their Czech neighbours.  more

“I knew who I wanted to work with and that guided me when I was trying to set up a group with a pleasant sound,” said the French accordionist Vincent Peirani in 2015, shortly after the release of his key album Living Being. At that time he had already completed several interesting acoustic projects including an album with the saxophonist Emil Parisien and he has continued in this style. In 2016 he brought out an enjoyable CD of duets with the pianist Michael Wollny and not long ago he worked with the pianist Stefano Bollani and the Berlin Philharmonic on the album Mediterraneo, inspired by classical music. The Living Being project is however of a completely different character, embodying the accordionist’s conception of electric music on the borders between jazz, rock and other genres. And it was with this programme that Peirani and his group came to Brno’s Husa na provázku (Goose on a String) theatre.  more

On Saturday 14 April, Dělnický dům in Brno-Židenice hosted the traditional performance of the Javorník ensemble and its guests. The Olšava ensemble from Uherský Brod was their guest. The history of these double concerts dates back to 2003, and from that time thirteen folk ensembles have performed on the stage.  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