The Belgian vocal consort Vox Luminis gave Kansas City audiences a concert for the ages, singing works by Heinrich Schütz and the forebears of the Bach family for The Friends of Chamber Music.
What a concert. Vox Luminis was simply astounding in its performance Friday evening for The Friends of Chamber Music. It was easily the best choral concert I’ve had the good fortune to hear. The program demanded attention from the first note of Martin Luther’s monophonic hymn
Mit Fried und Freud ich fahr dahin and did not relent its glory until the final strains of the concluding Bach set.
Accompanied by a continuo of organ (Jorge Lopez-Jescribano) and viola da gamba (Ricardo Rodríguez Miranda) throughout, the twelve singers in various combinations and stage configurations took the audience in Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral on a tour of the early Baroque, centering on Heinrich Schütz’s funerary Musikalische Exequien and the motets of the early Bachs: Johann, Johann Michael, Johann Christoph, and Johann Ludwig.
The Schütz was the standout work on the program. Consonants were tight—even the evil ending esses—vowels were perfectly matched, and blend was a wonderful balance of being able to pick out individual singers if so desired and to be awash in the ensemble sound. Diction was superb; even without a passing knowledge of German, the text was easily understood. That’s all technique and countless hours of rehearsal though. What really sold the ensemble was that the members were able to communicate the text even without the aid of translation. For instance, when the singers sang “Das Blut Jesu Christi,” they took on a colder sound that highlighted Schütz’s dramatic upper-neighbor-tone-inflected passage. Another curious moment was the sudden lift and clip of “Augenblick” [moment]. Brahms used the exact same gesture in his German Requiem on the same word to similar dramatic effect; I wonder if he borrowed this idea from the Musikalische Exequien.
Just when I began to feel that maybe this was all too much early Baroque for one sitting, Vox Luminis changed the affect, locking in my attention once again. This was most apparent in the extensive eight motet set of Bach works. Also thrilling was the amount of variety in those selections. Antiphonal choir work in Johann Michael’s Halt was du hast contrasted greatly with the similar homophonic openings of his Herr wenn ich nur dich habe and Johann Ludwig’s Herr nun lässest du deinen Diener.
Hopefully, The Friends of Chamber Music won’t make us wait too long to bring back this fantastic ensemble to Kansas City, perhaps unaccompanied next time to showcase even more of its collective skill.
The Friends of Chamber Music
Vox Luminis: Schütz and the Bach Family
Friday, October 24, 2014
Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral
415 W. 13th St., Kansas City, MO
For more information, visit http://www.chambermusic.org