Adam LaMotte

The Ensemble review: Wall of Sound

Performance of Bach's b minor Mass offers ample virtuosity, insufficient vocal variety

by BRUCE BROWNE

Johann Sebastian Bach needs no introduction, but in any performance, his music needs to be carefully reawakened by means of a variety of articulation, dynamic contrasts and deliberate text inflection. More of these elements were needed at The Ensemble of Oregon performance of Bach’s b Minor Mass at First Presbyterian Church last Sunday. Nevertheless, the concert had many tasty moments.

Conductor Patrick McDonough had in place all the necessary elements for a first rate concert: a stellar cast of singers, a first-rate band of instrumentalists and his own considerable talents. The ten voice choir (out of which came the soloists), plus 19 instrumentalists comprised the total of the performance forces.

The choir, however, was often unable to create more than a formidable wall of sound, unrelentingly forte (loud), and with an absence of variety in articulations. Legato singing is a valuable commodity, but legato unrelieved by elements of martellato, staccato, even marcato, is like driving straight through Kansas. You get from point A to point B, but it’s not the most interesting trip.

Patrick McDonough led The Ensemble and orchestra in JS Bach's Mass in b minor at Portland's First Presbyterian Church.

Patrick McDonough led The Ensemble and orchestra in JS Bach’s Mass in b minor at Portland’s First Presbyterian Church.

Throughout the performance of some 130 minutes, it was not clear what factor disallowed differentiation of vocal lines: the hall itself (an unreverberant space engineered for the speaking, not the singing voice); the small choral forces pitted against the modern winds feeling the need to just sing out; lack of rehearsal time required to fine tune and add nuance. There was an attempt to alter texture through use of “one on a part” voicing in select movements. Perhaps this could have been tried in the strings.

Some choruses, such as the double choir “Sanctus,” were just the right weight and perfect tempo. In comparison, during the following “Hosanna,” the 8th notes of the orchestra tended to obliterate the 16ths of the choir. Generally, the most pleasurable choral moments were heard when only the continuo or a smaller instrumental component were accompanying. One problem with balance in Bach is that oftentimes the instruments are playing colla voce— that is, the very same part as the voices. And modern instruments will always win that contest.

Delightful, however, were the arias and duets which ranged from seemingly effortless to virtuosic. And the instrumentalists in those pieces were spectacular in their own solo passages. Sponsored at Portland’s First Presbyterian Church through the church’s Celebration Works Concert Series, the forces had enough room to be positioned strategically – as with the trumpets and timpani placement toward the back — and the resulting sound produced a satisfying orchestral balance.

Continues…

A stylish new Baroque CD from Greg Ewer and Adam LaMotte

The duet play Jean-Marie LeClair's sonatas for two violins plus a Sherrie Wolf museum show and an anti-bully play winner

For several years Greg Ewer, Oregon Symphony violinist AND driving force behind the chamber music group 45th Parallel, and Adam LaMotte of the Portland Baroque Orchestra have been working on a two-CD set of Jean-Marie LeClair’s Complete Sonatas for Two Violins. Today, they are releasing that music in high definition on PureAudio Blu-ray.

LeClair is best known for bringing Italian-level violin technique to France and for his violin compositions, which by “weaving together elements of Italian and French music, he created an entirely new compositional style. His duos influenced later composers such as Mozart, de Beriot, Viotti, and closer to our own time, Bartok and Berio,” according to publisher Sono Luminus. I happen to be listening to Ewer and LaMotte playing LeClair right now, and it’s delightful, and yes, the spirit, intelligence, and joy of Mozart, say, emerges almost immediately. It’s easy to see what attracted Ewer and LaMotte to this under-recorded Baroque music.

Ewer and LaMotte met many years ago in Houston, Texas. Here’s how Ewer described it on Facebook:

Back in the mid-1980’s in Houston, I rode the bus to middle school with a class clown by the name of Adam LaMotte. It was a rough and tumble school, so probably in the interest of self-preservation, neither one of us ever mentioned the fact…that we were students of the violin. We would only discover it upon showing up at the High School for Performing and Visual Arts with violin cases in hand, totally bewildered that this commonality had never come up in conversation.

Fast forward almost 30 years, and both of us are now living in Portland, Oregon, collaborating and performing together on almost a weekly basis. In 2001, our search for great music for two violins led us to discover the Duo Sonatas of Jean-Marie Leclair, two sets of little-known gems by this great French Baroque composer. We are proud to announce the release of a landmark recording of these 12 incredible pieces of music, available for the first time as a complete set and in high-definition on PureAudio Blu-ray. Leclair’s contribution to music history cannot be overstated, and neither can our excitement about this project! We hope you’ll be inspired to pick up a copy of our new two-CD set from Sono Luminus.

This is the sort of musical collaboration that I love—from the heart, sustained over a long period of time, beautifully played and recorded.

Speaking of Baroque, Portland painter Sherrie Wolf exhibition Baroque Sensibilities opens at the Long Beach Museum of Art in California April 3 through June 15.

Sherrie Wolf, "Still Life With Puget Sound"/Laura Russo Gallery

Sherrie Wolf, “Still Life With Puget Sound”/Laura Russo Gallery

Chloe Rust, whose play Bullies Anonymous was a finalist in Oregon Children Theatre’s Bully Project last year, did even better on the national stage: The play was named the runner-up in the national Dramatic Change: Anti-Bullying Initiative competition.

The national competition was sparked by OCT’s original idea, and artistic director Stan Foote and Michael Bobbitt (of Adventure Theatre, Baltimore) decided to try to expand it nationally. They found partners at Theatre for Young Audiences USA, the American Alliance for Theatre and Education, and the Dramatic Change/Young Playwrights for Change. And Rust, who is an 8th grader at Lakeridge Junior High in Lake Oswego, entered.

This year, round two of the project is already under way. Six finalists were selected to work with professional playwrights Matthew B. Zrebski and Debbie Lamedman of Playwrights West to revise and craft their scripts in a workshop setting. The final scripts will be featured at a public staged reading at 5 p.m. May 11, the Winningstad Theatre, and members of OCT’s Young Professionals program will direct and perform the six plays. The six finalists in the OCT contest this year include Rust, Mariana Penaloza-Vu, Kendall Uslan, Hannah Bachman, Lizzie O’Mahony, and Pablo Reese. The winners will be announced on May 1st.

“We love this project because it gives kids a voice about issues that are real and immediate to them,” OCT Artistic Director Foote said. “Plus, it offers young writers a chance to work with professionals to hone their craft.”

 
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