In Review > Concerts and Recitals

Juraj Filas's Song of Solomon & Dvořák's Stabat Mater 

Kent Tritle & New York Oratorio Society | Carnegie Hall

On April 26 at Carnegie Hall, the New York Oratorio Society presented the world premiere of Song of Solomon by Czech composer Juraj Filas, commissioned by Joanne Spellun, one of the Society's alto choristers. Filas intended his grand work for soprano and tenor soloist, chorus and orchestra to be performed in tandem with Dvořák's Stabat Mater, and the Oratorio Society obliged. Orchestrally, the piece was sensuous and sumptuous, befitting the famously erotic tale of Solomon and his exotic Shulamite lover. Cascades of chromaticism and inventive instrumental pairings echoed Solomon's various provocative endearments — i.e. sister, daughter, bride. Sweet pastoral woodwinds began the piece with a suggestion of birdsong in a field, while Solomon's entrance was appropriately magisterial, with a big, sunny welcome for the Shulamite.

Unfortunately, the singers never stood a chance. There are tricks to writing for solo voices that allow them to carry over massive orchestral and choral forces, but Filas did not seem to have them at his command. Soloists Rachel Rosales and John Bellemer worked incredibly hard, but except for a few passing moments, they were largely inaudible. When they could be heard, they were rendered unintelligible by Filas's awkward text-setting, and there were few opportunities for the nuances of tone and expression that would have transformed their characters into flesh-and-blood lovers. The chorus, by virtue of its size, fared better but was still frequently drowned out. In the end, while Filas's sweeping, swirling score captured the juicy, carnal essence of the text, it also, unfortunately, rendered the famous words irrelevant.

Dvořák, by contrast, knew how to support his singers, and Rosales and Bellemer proved perfectly capable of soaring over a 200-voice chorus and forty-plus instrumentalists in the Stabat Mater. They both sang affectingly in their solos and, especially, in their duet "Fac ut portem Christi mortem," in which Bellemer's salty tenor and Rosales's dulcet soprano intertwined with tenderness and delicacy. Charlotte Daw Paulsen threw herself bodily into "Inflammatus et accensus," her unusual, molasses-colored mezzo-soprano keening with melancholy. Ben Wager's glowing bass was notable both for its gravedigger low notes and for its surprisingly silky middle register.

The enthusiastic, responsive chorus had its occasional pitchy moments, especially the sopranos, but they delivered passionately in the lilting magnanimity of "Tui nati vulnerati" and the thrilling final "paradisi gloria." Conductor Kent Tritle exhibited superb control over his sprawling forces, instinctively judging which sections needed special attention at which times and exhorting everyone to the highest level of music-making their abilities allowed. spacer 


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