Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

March 1, 2011

Concora's Winter Bach Festival

Hartford Symphony Orchestra
Emmanuel Church, Hartford, CT
February 27, 2011
by Terry Larsen

This impressive, yet comforting, architectural space combined with the no less striking architecture of music by J. S. Bach to provide a moment of delight on a winter's day. The spacious room gently hugged the gathering, while its refined woodwork, soaring dome, enormous glass windows, and Tiffany mural resounded with truly artful singing and playing.

The bountiful reward of Bach's music is achieved only by surmounting the enormous technical challenges it presents to performers - complex counterpoint presents pitfalls at every turn. Concora sang with joyful confidence, paying diligent attention to each detail.  The singers succeeded in blending this musical pointillism into coherent, sweeping lines, each deftly supported by the strings and colorfully illustrated by the winds and horns of the Hartford Symphony. Maestro Coffey's reserved but effective gestures established the delicate balance between players and singers, providing much needed transparency in Bach's typically dense textures. Horn and wind soloists played beautifully, navigating each exposed passage with graceful inflection and intonation.

Eleven members of Concora were featured as soloists in the course of the concert, which opened with two cantatas, BWV 40 and BWV 102, and closed with the Missa Brevis in F Major, BWV 233. Although well prepared and lovingly delivered, the solos were somewhat uneven in technique and timbre. The Winter Bach Festival Choir joined Concora on the four chorales of the cantatas.

The Violin Concerto in A minor, BWV 1041, provided balance and contrast to the choral works. Violinist Leonid Sigal brought the audience to its feet with his graceful playing and agility. Once again, the orchestra provided sure support, however Coffee's direction sometimes lacked flexibility in tempo in support of the solo violin and at cadences. Nonetheless, this performance was a highlight of an already outstanding musical offering.

Concora's full range of expression was evident in their performance of the Missa. The Kyrie was graceful and elegantly understated in marked contrast to a rousing presentation of the jubilant Gloria. The Cum Sancto Spiritu provided a fittingly joyous finale to a very demanding though satisfying program.