Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 18, 2009

Bach's St. Matthew Passion

Berkshire Choral Festival, Sheffield, MA
August 15, 2009
by Debra Tinkam

Johann Sebastian Bach's Matthaus - Passion BWV244 (St.Matthew Passion), much being derived from the first book, Matthew (26 and 27), of the New Testament, sung in German, was the show stopper for this Saturday evening. Together, with an abbreviated Springfield Symphony Orchestra (SSO), the night was divinely inspirational. In addition, there were featured soloists, performing the words of Jesus, Judas, Peter, and the Evangelist, to name only a few.

The first part, begun by orchestra and chorus, were beautifully and dramatically orchestrated as they describe the procession to Mt. Calvary, and, thus, the death of Jesus. The Evangelist, representing St. Matthew, narrates the story vocally, and the soloists' dialogue, sung in recitative style, became Bach's greatest opera. The150 voice choir came from as far as Japan and Canada and 28 of the United States.

Of particular mention was the part of Jesus, sung by Christopheren Nomura, who, incidentally, used no music for this dramatically moving portrayal of betrayal, suffering and death. His dynamics and emotion were comparable to very few. Conductor Gary Thor Wedow, who has appeared four times with the Berkshire Choral Festival, currently serves on the Julliard School Faculty. His conducting was emotional.

This Passion, split into two orchestras and two choirs were tools Bach used for variation and effect, and variation and effect were obvious throughout. The sounds of flutes and oboes on both sides of the orchestra, making up the two orchestras, created a stereo effect. Violins and voices for choral passage were uniquely symbolic in setting the stage for Jesus' demise. Strings were interlaced in Jesus' execution until the final passage where, after Pilate asks, "Which one shall I release: Jesus or Barabas?" The crowd screams (sings) "Barabas!" and in his final hour Jesus says, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

This fifth, and final, performance of the Berkshire Choral Festival's2009 season, was moving beyond words. The talent of the chorus, orchestra and soloists emanated perfection to make for a once in a lifetime performance.