What: The Boulder Bach Festival repeats this performance of the St. John Passion.
When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 2
Where: Mountain View Methodist Church, 355 Ponca Place, Boulder
Tickets: $30 at the door. Visit boulderbachfestival.org for information.
DENVER -- Rick Erickson has arrived. It is time for Boulder's classical scene to fully embrace the Boulder Bach Festival music director. Sunday morning, when others were crying wolf about a snowstorm that wasn't nearly as bad as it appeared, canceling events all over town, the festival went ahead with its opening chamber concert at St. John's Episcopal Church.
The loyal patrons who attended were rewarded with a predictably edifying afternoon of immortal, but intimate, music performed with loving devotion by Erickson, concertmaster Zachary Carrettin, bassist Paul Erhard and soprano Sarah Brailey.
Erickson's magnificent organ solos whetted the appetite for the main event, the performances of Bach's highly dramatic and emotional St. John Passion. Friday at St. John's Cathedral in Denver, the two-hour work was given one of the most heartfelt, intense, and yes, passionate performances the Bach Festival has seen in several years. The Passion will be presented again tonight in Boulder at Mountain View Methodist Church.
Erickson led the choir and instrumental ensemble with focus and concentration, bringing out every emotional nuance in the text and the music. The story of Jesus' trial and death, in the vivid language of John's gospel, could not have been more immediately present.
The most memorable point was at the moment of Christ's death, where Erickson inserted a long pause, during which the transfixed audience was utterly silent.
The choruses were polished and precise. The echoes of the cadences reverberated through the stone walls of the cathedral, a setting whose effect cannot be matched. The chorales were taken at a brisk, satisfying pace. The long opening and closing choruses were dynamic, setting the pace and summarizing the story.
The instrumental ensemble was also impeccable. Organist Jeffrey Grossman, playing the cathedral's newly restored instrument, kept everything solidly unified. Carrettin and Paul Miller took up the intimate but archaic viola
d'amore in two consecutive numbers near the center of the piece.
The palm, however, goes to the vocal soloists. These five performances alone would have made the presentation of the Passion one of the finest Bach Festival events in its history.
Tenor Tony Boutté had by far the most work in the tremendous role of the evangelist. Singing no aria, but working through very long narrative recitative, Boutté's voice rang out with power and force.
Baritone Adam Ewing, known to Boulder audiences from his University of Colorado performances, gave depth to the words of Jesus.
Bass Joe Damon Chappel, introduced to the Festival audience last year, sang both the large bass arias with choral participation as well as the role of Pilate. He conveyed Pilate's bitterness with a noticeable bite. The aria "Hurry to Golgatha" was taken at a dangerously fast pace, but Erickson and Chappel made it seem absolutely necessary.
Tenor Daniel Hutchings and soprano Sarah Brailey reached emotional high points in their Part II arias.
Brailey had already made an impact on Sunday in two cantatas by Buxtehude. Finally, countertenor Ryland Angel, whose vocal tone in the alto register was pristine, delivered the most powerful message, "The hero from Judah is victorious and mighty" after a deeply painful elaboration on Jesus' words, "It is finished."
All soloists and the chorus sang the German words with understanding and sensitivity. Anticipation for Erickson's offerings in subsequent seasons will be high. The St. John Passion has not been one of the Festival's more commonly performed works. A better argument for this earlier, more-neglected of Bach's two Good Friday compositions could not have been made.