St. Matthias Church (Episcopal) sponsors the twelve-concert series of the Asheville Chamber Players under cellist and impresario Ron Lambe; the players and singers are all volunteers from the immediate area. The May 6 concert was the annual choral concert.
St. Matthias is 100-odd years old, seats about 250, and has excellent acoustics. No shibboleth prevents the use of the chancel for the stage and there is a decent 100-year-old organ by Ruben Midmer. These concerts also serve as fund-raisers for St. Matthias.
Illness prevented Bertil van Boer from conducting, so Stephen Klein stepped in at short notice and did a fine job. Klein is crisp and precise; he has the subtle gift of tempo that makes the music sound like it's always going somewhere, not wandering aimlessly in the tempo wilderness. Also important is the handsome way Klein has of maintaining control without acting like a tsar or hamming it up. His movements are graceful but precise, clear to follow but restrained, professional but not flamboyant. Klein is also the coach of the chorus and the usual organist for the Chamber Players.
David Foster, organist at the First Baptist Church, filled Klein’s place at the organ. His playing was clean and clear, with good choices of registration.
The Asheville Chamber Players, with fifteen singers and twenty-three instrumentalists, is well up to snuff on resources. Of course the requirements for Bach and for Haydn are not necessarily congruent. Bach's cantata Sie werden us Saba all kommen, S.65, was composed for the Feast of the Epiphany in 1724 and first performed at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig less than eight months after Bach had become the Cantor and Director of Music. Although it's a big piece of music, the modern instruments were a little overpowering in the fine St. Matthias acoustic. Soloists Carl Wilson, bass, and Clark Sorrels, tenor, have full, strong voices, but musicality could have been better served with a severe reduction in orchestral resources, maybe as severe as one instrumentalist to a part, to preserve the terrace dynamics. Actually, maybe "cliff dynamics" rather than "terrace dynamics" might be a better description of what's needed.
Tempi were adequate, but by no means fast. Klein's precise conducting has already been praised.
The final chorale, "Ei nun, mein Gott, so fall' ich dir Getrost," has a high tenor line that is typical Bach. The chorus handled this chorale beautifully, with the tenors overarching to perfection.
Once one gets over the fact that this "Ave Verum Corpus" is not the "Ave Verum Corpus" of Mozart, but by Saint-Saëns, it is possible to enjoy a lot of good music in it, especially when the singers are this good.
It seemed a little like our calendar might be broken, what with Bach's Epiphany Cantata and Haydn's St. Nicholas Mass (for December 6), but never mind that when the music is so good.
As the program notes mention, the St. Nicholas Mass is in the usual Latin form, with some sections arranged for vocal quartet and orchestra and some for chorus and orchestra. The large orchestra was here somewhat more successful than with the delicate exuberance required by the Bach. The vocal quartet in the middle of the "Credo" — sung by Andrea Blaugh, soprano, Lee Kimble, alto, Steve Cooper, tenor, and Carl Wilson, bass — was a little masterpiece. The timbres of the solo voices, their balance with the orchestra, and their transparent diction were superb. The sound of the "Benedictus" reminds one of how recently the concerto grosso had metamorphosed into the full-blown symphony: the "Benedictus" was still very concerto grosso like. The "Agnus Dei," with the soprano and tenor working in the lower part of their register and the alto and bass working in the higher range, brought the voices together in a charming way, making it sound more SSTT than SATB.
And it would hardly be one of my reviews if I didn't complain about the program. This one's bound to win a prize for most mistakes. Among the really good ones — all probably the work of a dubious text-scanning software — were "protech" for "protect." Perhaps some generous proofreader and graphic design person will come along soon to collaborate with Hart Funeral Home, who generously printed the programs.
Don't miss the Asheville Chamber Players' woodwind quintet First Sunday Concert on June 3 or the organ and strings program on July 1.