Yesterday was our first of four performances of Mendelssohn’s symphony-cantata Lobgesang. (It’s a symphony… no it’s a cantata… no it’s both!)
So how did we do? Quite well. We did a remarkable job of capturing the piece’s character and intensity, though I suspect there’s still more we can find in ourselves to give it over the remaining performances.
Maestro Tovey continued his outstanding stewardship at the podium. He was kinetic, demonstrative, and inviting — but most importantly, consistent. Consistent with the tempi and the cues and in the feeling he was trying to evoke from us as an orchestra and chorus. I did think that one of the fugal passages started off a touch fast, almost as if he was daring us to keep up with him, but all in all there were no surprises.
The soloists were impressive — especially the way the two sopranos, Carolyn Sampson and Camilla Tilling. I can only assume, when soloists like them are selected, that they are chosen not only for their availability and their skill, but also for how well they match each other for a duet like the cantata’s fifth movement. John Tessier was pretty much what I expected from a tenor in this role – technically accurate, strong delivery, and capturing some of the pleading that’s built into his movements (which, given their nature, provide the work’s only counter to the “praise” theme.)
Our sound as a chorus was full and luscious, reaching to the back of a (disappointingly half empty) hall. At no time did I feel we were competing with the orchestra for volume. My throat’s a little sore this morning, so I have to wonder if I still may have been oversinging despite my best efforts to produce an efficient sound. My singing felt good while I was up there. Technically, I know we basses had a few shaky parts on some of the fugues where uncertainty pulled back our volume or made a weak entrance, but it was nothing serious and likely not noticeable in the heavy counterpoints we were wading through. The highlight of the piece remains the Die Nacht ist vergangen! 7th movement as we transition from night into daylight, and we really did nail the a capella chorale that immediately follows it — nuanced, heartfelt singing that carried a prayerful, reflective tone.
We still have more to give, however. Some of the color and character of the piece that we brought out in rehearsals was still not captured in our performance as well as I’d hoped. The fugues are still a little pedestrian sometimes, losing some of the pleasantry of the counterpoint and melodic line in favor of the plodding thump, thump, thump needed to get through them correctly. I think we can get more pathos in the fourth movement and, yes, even in the chorale, where details like a subtle swell on the word Gott didn’t come through to my ears. I think there’s still a minuscule barrier in our heads that we need to overcome, because of the late memorization — that if we all can truly internalize the music and stop worrying about what’s next, what’s next, that we can break through to an even higher echelon of performance. Mind you, there’s only so much you can do with this piece given its monologue of praise, praise, praise. Hopefully, though, it won’t be another 24 years before it’s performed again!