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Los Angeles Debut : Bachchor St. Petri Opens Bach Festival

October 15, 1987|JOHN HENKEN

When the consul general of the Federal Republic of Germany introduced the Bachchor St. Petri as one of the finest choirs in Europe, there was at least one skeptic in the audience Wednesday evening at First Congregational Church. When the concert ended, surely there were none.

About the Bachchor--60 voices from Hamburg--neither the consul nor the Los Angeles Bach Festival program book offered information beyond stating that this was the group's first U.S. tour. Bachchor St. Petri is also the first foreign ensemble to appear in the festival's 54-year history.

The chorus is distinguished by remarkably pure, vibratoless soprano sound, and light, flexible singing that wells up with surprising power at key moments. Its production--clearly developed in a resonant acoustic such as at First Congregational--projected clean lines in the densest polyphony.

The Germans displayed their comprehensive vocal wares in a stimulating, well-balanced program. With most of our larger choruses turning themselves into principally oratorio societies, this kind of music is regrettably confined largely to college campuses and a few churches.

Works for double chorus closed each half of the concert; Bach's motet "Komm, Jesu, Komm," BWV 229, and Brahms' three "Fest- und Gedenkspruche." Conductor Ernst-Ulrich von Kameke paced them nicely, attending to telling detail as well as grandiose sweep.

This century was represented by Distler's "Singet dem Herrn" and Kameke's own "Osterpsalm," a big, challenging work, met with serene confidence by Kameke's singers. It uses many characteristically Pendereckian devices, with incidental solos that proved his singers individually capable of warmth and sweet vibrato, in contrast with their cool, clear choral tone.

Pieces by German Renaissance and Baroque composers completed the rest of the choir's portion of the program, and the lone encore. Most notable was the urgent chromaticism of Hassler's "Ad Dominum cum tribularer," built to almost oppressive intensity.

All of the singers' numbers were unaccompanied. Intertwined with them, however, was the music of a mini organ recital, sturdily played by Simon Hettwer, presumably the accompanist for the chorus.

Hettwer, too, presented a piece by Kameke, a pungent, episodic Toccata from "Rascacielos." His efforts in pieces by Buxtehude, Bach, and Brahms proved more notable for color than clarity.

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