Low-Key Approach Works Well for Mass by Bach

By Huxhold, John | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), February 5, 1995 | Go to article overview

Low-Key Approach Works Well for Mass by Bach


Huxhold, John, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


Composers of the Baroque period wrote their pieces for intimate settings, using small ensembles of gut-stringed instruments that had a more astringent quality than their smoother-sounding modern counterparts. When such compositions are performed in the large volume and plush sound of Powell Hall, it is all too easy for multiple layers of inner voices and intricate counterpoint to get lost in a murky sea of reverberation.

On Friday night, during the performance of Bach's "Mass in B-minor," conductor Leonard Slatkin and the St. Louis Symphony Orchestra and Chorus demonstrated what can be done to meet this challenge. For one thing, the orchestra and especially the chorus used larger numbers of individuals working below their maximum to increase the volume rather than a small group of singers and instrumentalists straining to fill the cavernous space.

(NOTE: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH APPEARED IN THE EARLY FIVE STAR EDITION ONLY)

This had an added advantage - the sense that something was always held in reserve for the few truly monumental climaxes.

(END OF EARLY FIVE STAR TEXT)

This low-key approach also produced a superb and delicate balance within and between the chorus and orchestra. The chorus had better diction than the soloists, which helped to clarify even the most complicated passages.

(NOTE: THE FOLLOWING PARAGRAPH APPEARED IN THE EARLY FIVE STAR EDITION ONLY)

Notes played by the orchestra were sometimes foreshortened slightly or given a staccato accent, all of which allowed Slatkin the luxury of mostly quick tempos. …

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