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Princeton University Glee Club Honors Walter Nollner With Bach

Nancy Plum

When people think of Glee Clubs, they often envision expansive choruses, heavy on women and light on tenors. Princeton University Glee Club conductor Richard Tang Yuk pared forces down considerably for Saturday night's Bach's tribute in Richardson Auditorium to former conductor Walter Nollner. This final 2004-2005 performance for the Glee Club, celebrating its 130th anniversary, featured two cantatas, a motet, and a concerto by Bach, accompanied by a slick chamber orchestra.

Cantata No. 4, Christ lag in Todesbanden, was suitable for this post-Easter season, and demonstrated a clean and distinct sound from the chorus. The orchestra was refreshingly understated and self-controlled, allowing the chorus parts to be heard. This was a thoughtful performance, with graceful phrase endings and nice dynamic touches. The alto section was especially rich in vocal color, particularly in the duet with the sopranos, with accompaniment by two cellos, a double bass, and organ. The a cappella opening to the fifth movement chorus was especially clean.

Soloists for this cantata included soprano Sarah Pelletier, tenor David Kellett, and bass Lawrence Long. Ms. Pelletier's voice was clean and bright, but it was hard to get a sense of the sparkle or depth to her sound at the tempo at which her duet with Mr. Kellett was performed. These two singers were not always together (not necessarily through any fault of their own). Although a bit heavy handed in this cantata, Mr. Kellett proved very precise in Cantata No. 34, O Ewiges Feuer, performed in the second half of the concert. In both cantatas, Mr. Long was consistently reassuring with the text, even if the solo of Christ lag was a bit low.

Mr. Tang Yuk took an elegant approach to Bach's motet Lobet den Herrn, often performed at break-neck speed with fioratura which eventually collapses. With a formation intermingling the sopranos and tenors, and altos and basses on the other side, the Glee Club was well able to handle Mr. Tang Yuk's careful tempi, although the motet seemed to want to speed up on its own at times. There was not a lot of tempo contrast between the sections, but the light orchestral accompaniment kept the piece stylish.

For this performance, Mr. Tang Yuk had compiled a chamber orchestra of local professionals who were well-versed in the style of Bach. Two were featured in Bach's Concerto for Oboe and Violin in c minor: violinist Ruotau Mao and oboist Peter Velekonja. These two instruments blended mellifluously together, weaving in and out of the orchestral fabric. Mr. Velekonja exhibited particularly graceful dynamic control, especially in the second movement, accompanied by pizzicato strings. Throughout the concerto, Mr. Mao and Mr. Velekonja displayed a perfect dialogue, knowing when to get out of each other's way.

Cantata No. 34 brought a new soloist, counter-tenor Daniel Bubeck, as well as refreshing trumpets and flutes. Since the orchestra was a bit larger, the choral sound was a bit more submerged than in Cantata No. 4, and there was a little too much of the detached phrasing which often occurs in Bach. Mr. Bubeck's solo was accompanied by flutes, so it was a good decision by Mr. Tang Yuk to use a male alto for this solo, rather than a woman's voice, which would have been heavier. This solo was very high in the vocal register, and Mr. Bubeck floated his sound through the upper notes, with delicate playing by flutists Reva Youngstein and Christine Hansen. Throughout all four of these works, excellent continuo work was provided by cellists Sophie Shao and Betsy Loughran, as well as double bassist John Carbone with Stephen Karr doubling on the organ and harpsichord.

Mr. Tang Yuk selected these works to honor long-time Glee Club conductor Walter Nollner, an ardent admirer of Bach. The concert proved to be not only a fitting tribute to Mr. Nollner but a solid closing to the school year and season.


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