Artful Bach on New Year’s Eve

 United StatesUnited States Bach: Soloists, Amor Artis Chorus and Orchestra, Ryan James Brandau (artistic director), St. Jean Baptiste Church, New York City. 31.12.2015 (DS)

Bach: Mass in B minor, BWV 232, Part I (Madeline Apple Healey and Jennifer Gliere, sopranos); Concerto for Two Violins, Strings and Continuo in D minor, BWV 1043 (Owen Dalby and Johanna Novom, violins); Suite No. 3 in D Major, BWV 1068; Mass in B minor, Part II (Sarah Nelson Craft, mezzo-soprano)


Despite countless choices for a New York City New Year’s Eve, the packed pews at the elaborate St. Jean Baptiste Church on Lexington Avenue revealed Bach’s timeless appeal. Amor Artis Chorus and Orchestra presented a celebratory evening, eloquently crafted, that elicited a sense of harmony and hopefulness for the coming year.

Director Ryan James Brandau gave a fresh format to familiar, beloved works, such as splitting the Mass in B minor in two—the first half at the beginning of the concert, and the second at the end. With current events on everyone’s mind, in the Kyrie eleison, Brandau somehow reflected the challenges facing the world in 2015. But with Bach’s exultant Dona nobis pace, the conductor sent us off with the musical equivalent of champagne toasts, and the hope for a better 2016.

Along with extra energy from the soloists, mezzo-soprano Sarah Nelson Craft gave a particularly mesmerizing reading of the Agnus Dei. Her voice flowed with a smooth, honeyed quality that seemed to trickle down the church’s thick stone pillars. That she and the orchestra blended so well was further tribute to the chemistry with Brandau and his focused direction.

The choir gave distinct attention to vocal layering, built phrases that framed Bach’s deific harmonies, and used dynamics to emphasize contrapuntal shifts. A particularly joyful Gloria movement was one of many memorable sequences. And Brandau satisfyingly and precisely measured the very last note—just the right length—which resonated throughout the church’s pleasing acoustic.

In between the two halves of the Mass, the Amor Artis musicians showed their early music expertise in the Concerto for Two Violins in D minor and the Suite No. 3 in D major. The Suite, in particular, was distinctive with joyful tempos in the Gavotte, and playful accents from the brass—airy popping notes that seemed to lift a set of imaginary Baroque dancers. A noble, short Bourree led straight into a dandy Gigue, appropriately festive.

Amor Artis performs every New Year’s Eve. For a delightful alternative to the Times Square throngs, consider an evening at St. Jean Baptiste Church on Manhattan’s East Side, where there will be music of a different kind, to help you ring in the new year.

Daniele Sahr

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