Monday, 11 February 2013

Les Messes Luthériennes de Bach

The chamber choir "La Chapelle de Québec" begged Our Lord for mercy while Les Violons du Roy played the imploring melodies and counter-melodies of Bach.
Kyrie eleison,
Christe eleison,
Kyrie elieson
We in the audience bathed in the glorious sound, though there was a notable lack of begging and imploring amongst us, we comfortably-off classical music aficionados. On a Sunday afternoon in Montreal in the second decade of the 21st century we appreciate the religious culture of 18th century Europe; for most of us  it is our culture, even if we no longer have the faith it was meant to support. I wonder if we will be one of the last generations to have this appreciation - will the words of the Kyrie be literally meaningless to our children?

Interpreting the art of Western Europe depends on recognising the references to that religious culture, though the greatest art also transcends it.

When I look at Caravaggio's The Taking of Christ I am influenced by my Catholic childhood and all cultural baggage (and guilt of course!) that goes with it. What does it change to see this picture as the arrest of a mere revolutionary, a Nazarene Che Guevara?

Anyway the concert was pretty damn good and Les Violons du Roy played to their usual high standard. The four masses are quite different from each other and for me the Mass in G Major (BWV 236) was the highpoint: a beautiful Kyrie to begin with that allowed the choir to show great subtlety and precision, and then the Agnus Dei was a quite breathtaking duet of a combination I'd never heard before: a soprano (Shannon Mercer) and a counter-tenor (Robin Blaze). I'm normally not that keen on counter-tenors but Blaze has a ridiculously pure voice; it inter-wove with Mercer's to heart-aching effect.

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