The concert was held in Moore Chapel, the church’s more intimate side chamber, rather than their sprawling (and acoustically rich) main hall. For all the great promise of the concert, the poor sound quality of the chapel itself quickly emerged as the concert’s Achilles’ heel. The otherwise pristine voices of Kinnara began to clash in the acoustically obtuse room.
The stage was also cramped, as musicians from two fairly large ensembles crammed themselves together onto a tight space with limited room for motion. It was enough to make me wonder what could have led to such a limiting choice of venue, especially when the main chapel sat dark and dormant throughout the evening.
Sonic constraints aside, the performance itself was consistently top-notch with an emphasis on understated, ruminative works that seemed to bend a gentle knee to the sacred space that the performance occupied. Opening with movements II-IV of Dietrich Buxtehude’s “Membra Jesu Nostri,” the combined ensemble quickly found its footing with a melodic line that was exchanged back and forth between instrument and voice with the prayerful repartee of an Anglican church choir.
The piece eventually transitions into darker — though no less meditative — areas and in so doing introduces the tenor and bass register that is subtle and earnest though never as brash and imposing as the gothic funeral choirs that normally made liberal use of the lower vocal registers.
Kinnara’s artistic director, JD Burnett, handled conducting duties and his approach was in keeping with the gentle aura of the evening—a softly deliberate approach that gave the ensembles only a minimal wisp of direction. His approach was effective in its less-is-more sense of restraint that allowed the room musicians to breathe in their respective roles without abandoning them altogether. Such a conducting style is well suited to the often rhythmically fluid realms of the choir, and the instrumentalists seemed to also benefit from the instruction as the bass register rolled along with a sense of dreamlike whimsy.
The evening’s second piece, “Herr, wende dich und sei mir gnädig,” came courtesy of Johann Christoph Bach, fifth son of Johann Sebastian Bach and was a suitably more ominous development in the course of the winter to spring transition. I was initially unsettled by the instrumentalists’ prolonged tuning session, which saw them collectively hold a single note for a protracted period. That wearisome attention to detail paid off, however, as the string section — now expanded to include more members than seemed physically possible on the tiny stage — was far more sonorous.
The most notable performance from the second piece came from the vocal trio of soprano Amy Petrongelli, alto Doug Dodson and tenor Cory Klose. Standing apart from the choir — and thus able to transcend the room’s hamfisted acoustics — they were that key ingredient that gave the performance its haunting, sinister undertones.
Most of the work on display was collective in nature. But the one standout performance emerged as the most captivating and memorable moment of the evening: Georg Philipp Telemann’s Oboe Concerto in E minor. It is a formidable technical piece by any standard, and was carried by the polite virtuosity of oboist Kathryn Montoya. Her command of the instrument was as dazzling in its technical prowess as it was in its gentle, friendly tone — a rare and commendable feat on one of the orchestra’s most famously difficult instruments. Her clear-as-a-bell tone, which never once squawked or squeaked, rippled across the room with the captivating poise of a veteran circus performer doing an effortless high wire act.
The evening proceeded in a similar fashion with Jan Dismas Zelenka’s “Miserere” and Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Komm, Jesu, komm,” doing their part to transition us into the dewy morning light of renewal that is the onset of spring. The latter work, the evening’s closer, served as a hopeful end to a set that largely hinged on the dark interiors of winter life.
All in all, the pairing of the Atlanta Baroque Orchestra and Kinnara was, like a gathering of warm spirits in cold times, a welcome way to spend the evening in the waning days of winter.
Jordan Owen began writing about music professionally at the age of 16 in Oxford, Mississippi. A 2006 graduate from the Berklee College of Music, he is a professional guitarist, bandleader and composer. He is currently the lead guitarist for the jazz group Other Strangers, the power metal band Axis of Empires and the melodic death/thrash metal band Century Spawn.
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