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SYMPHONY REVIEW
Mendocino Music Festival / Saturday, July 23, 2016
Festival Orchestra and Chorus, Alan Pollack, conductor

Conductor Alan Pollack

BACH'S MIGHTY MASS ENDS MENDOCINO FESTIVAL

by Paula Mulligan
Saturday, July 23, 2016

For the final concert of the Mendocino Music Festival July 23 Alan Pollack conducted the Festival Orchestra and Chorus in just one work, Bach’s B Minor Mass.  The orchestra, much reduced in size to suit the needs of the sparser scoring and the character of the composition’s period, ably supported the nearly 100 singers that had been prepared by chorus master Carolyn Steinbuck. 

The singing parts are complex and demanding, and much rehearsal was evident.  The singers included the Mendocino College Masterworks Chorale (directed by Les Pfutzenreuter) that recently performed the Mass in Ukiah, and two Mendocino coast choruses directed by Jenni Windsor and Cynthia Frank.  Having studied and learned the music in separate venues the three groups came together under Ms. Steinbuck’s direction and became this season’s Festival Chorus.  They did an impressive job with a difficult work.  Their intonation was very good with a few exceptions when some of the high notes in the soprano section tended to be slightly flat, they sang admirably, responding to Mr. Pollack’s dynamic contrasts which made the work come alive.

The Mass opens with a rousing Kyrie Eleison with no introduction before the singer’s entrance. The initial plea for mercy had both urgency and an imploring quality.  The orchestra here was primarily strings, with the two oboes d’amore tunefully supporting string choirs with a lovely counter-melody.

The soloists were highly professional in their performance.  The original second soprano was unable to perform, and just two weeks ago Bethany Coffland, who sang the alto solos, was asked to do the second soprano solo and duets as well.  Her warm and flexible tone was a pleasure to hear, and even the higher parts were sung without strain.  Her duet with Aurelie Veruni in the Christe Eleison was balanced and finely crafted. The cello continuo was played authoritatively but always subtly by Stephen Harrison, and the echo effects of forte cello phrases repeated softly supported the singers. The second Kyrie began with a strong statement from the tenors and basses, restating the urgent plea for mercy. This was followed by a joyous Gloria featuring piccolo trumpets, particularly the baroque trumpet played with great clarity by James Rodseth, and the timpani played by Tyler Mack.
 
The Laudamus te (We praise you) was beautifully sung by Ms. Coffland with Roy Malan playing a captivating violin obligato that used very little vibrato in keeping with the sound of the Baroque style.  The strings overall kept a smooth almost glassy tone that stayed within that style.  This was followed by the Gratias agimus tibi (We give thanks for your great glory) that again began with a strong statement by the men’s voices included a rousing crescendo in the whole chorus.  Domine deus featured a duet with the first soprano and tenor Brian Thorsett, whose voice seems ideal for sacred music with its lucid clarity.  A flute solo was played gorgeously by Mindy Rosenfeld that not only supported the singers but was clearly an integral part of the sound.

Qui tollis peccata mundi (Who takes away the sins of the world) is another minor key choral section which prominently featured flutes and strings but ended on a hopeful major chord.  Qui sedes at dexteram patris (Who sits at the right hand of God) was an alto solo by Ms. Coffland in her own range, and her warmth of her tone was a pleasure to hear, as was her duo with Thomas Nugent’s oboe d’amore. Quoniam tu solus sanctus (You alone are holy) introduced the bass voice of Paul Thompson whose mellow sound was supported by two bassoons and horns (led by Bill Klingelhoffer).  The first part of the performance concluded with the chorus rendition of Cum sancto spiritu (with the holy spirit).

Following intermission the the Credo (Apostle’s Creed) was heard with an orchestral introduction reminiscent of parts of the Mozart Requiem, and one is reminded that Bach was the composer on whom many subsequent composers built their compositional style.  It was gently pulsing and insistent, again with that transparent sound that so suits the sacred music of this time. The chorus followed this with a bright and outraged Crucifixus (He was crucified for us) featuring trumpets led by Mr. Rodseth.

Mr. Thompson was again heard in the last part of the Credo, stating the beliefs of the faithful. Underlying this was  a duet by oboe d’amore players Nugent and Beth Aiken, and the sound was prominent and fluid.  This instrument has a less nasal sound han the modern oboe.   Bassoonist Carolyn Lockhart combined the continuo part with Stephen Harrison that added a special  quality augmenting this duet. The Sanctus section included two choral components, the first containing smooth triplets that flowed throughout the chorus.  Here the supporting strings were reminiscent of the music of Bach’s Brandenburg concertos.

Concluding the Mass were the Osanna, Benedictus, Agnus Dei and Dona Nobis Pacem.  The highlights were were the singing of Mr. Thorsett and an exquisite flute solo by Ms. Rosenfeld.

The Dona Nobis Pacem, an earnest plea for peace, seemed a fitting conclusion for this great work and for the 30th Mendocino Festival.