Music review: Bach Choir of Bethlehem

March 14, 2013

Who knows why, but Mendelssohn’s “Elijah” is enjoying a resurgence. You used to hear this massive sacred oratorio once every few seasons, but a recent performance at the Music Center at Strathmore was the third major one in this region in less than a year.

The Bach Choir of Bethlehem, founded in the 19th century, has gained international recognition through its annual Bach Festival, tours and recordings. Supplemented at this performance by the Millersville University Keystone Singers, the more than 100 vocalists displayed clean tone, excellent pitch and blend, and kept good tempo even in the most stressful numbers. The only quibble would relate to diction, which was neglected. Choir directors I’ve worked under spent inordinate amounts of time on placement and exaggerated projection of consonants, without which there’s essentially no text. And particularly since the choir offered “Elijah” in an English translation, it would behoove its members to work a little harder in this area. But otherwise the choral element was outstanding — energetic and crisp.

The orchestra was a collection of top freelancers from around the Eastern Seaboard including several from Washington. Conductor Greg Funfgeld is not the most imaginative interpreter — recitative sections were particularly flat —but kept things moving along without fuss, letting choral/orchestral balances take care of themselves (or not).

The soloists were an uneven group, but fortunately the lead singer, baritone Dashon Burton, was the standout. He has a clarion instrument (and great diction) that projects well throughout his range, though with a tiny rasp when singing at his loudest. Overall, a splendid, dramatic performance. Soprano Rosa Lamoreaux was also excellent, expertly modulating her silvery tone for the various roles she took. Tenor Mark Boyle had a clean sound but sort of avoided his high notes. Mezzo Marietta Simpson was often tentative and wobbly.

This was the choir’s big night, though, and it gave great pleasure, even if we too often had to guess what it was singing about.

Battey is a freelance writer.

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