Te Deum Antiqua and KC Baroque perform Kreuzige: A German Passiontide

Choir and instrumentalists perform in church.

Screenshot from Kreuzige performance by Te Deum Antiqua and Kansas City Baroque Consortium.

In an early nod to the upcoming Christian Holy Week, Te Deum Antiqua and Kansas City Baroque Consortium presented Kreuzige: A German Passiontide in a virtual concert. These two period practice ensembles, choral and instrumental, combined forces to perform a selection of 17th and early 18th century works in a journey through the events leading to Jesus’ crucifixion, from Palm Sunday through Good Friday.

Kreuzige, in German, means crucify, and we are given an excellent program of German-language based works, beautifully performed. The concert was filmed at Village Presbyterian in Prairie Village, KS, and conducted by Te Deum founder and artistic director Matthew Christopher Shepard for a succinct 65-minute performance.

To begin the journey with Palm Sunday, Shepard chose Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Himmelskönig, Sei Wilkommen” BWV 182 (King of Heaven, welcome). Draped purple fabric and palm leaves festooned the stands of the small chamber orchestra, with the chorus positioned behind them (all masked and distanced). The orchestra bolstered the voices, with pleasantly forward recorder. The choir, with only twelve singers, gave a resonate and glorious performance.

The performance also included three excellent soloists. Gabe Lewis-O’Connor, bass, had authority and a good all over range, with a gentle approach to the line “Starkes Lieben” (powerful love). Countertenor Jay Carter’s voice was clear, with a lovely light touch. Tenor Jacob Sentgeorge performed with full voice and direction in the challenging melismatic lines.

Maundy Thursday is the reminder and reenactment of the Last Supper, that first communion, and for that they selected Heinrich Schütz’ gorgeous, if somber, motet “Unser Herr Jesus Christus in der Nacht” SWV 423 (Our Lord Jesus Christ on the night he was betrayed). Schütz, a precursor to Bach, wrote countless compositions for both sacred and secular events, though many of those are lost. This work, for chorus and basso continuo, was beautifully performed, sighing and somber. Schütz’ setting of the text allowed for clear understanding and a few lovely effects, emphasizing the important phrases of the story for those original audience members who may have been illiterate and still transmitting today a feeling of sorrow and remorse.

Violinist David Hays and organist Elisa Bickers performed Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Rosary Sonata No. 9: Jesus Carries the Cross. Biber, as composer and virtuoso violinist, wrote extensively for violin, pushing the bounds of technique for the era and challenging musicians even today. Hays, with Bickers’ steadying presence, executed an array of technical runs and effects.

With the stage area now draped in red fabric, the journey reached its disconsolate conclusion with Schütz’ “Die Sieben Worte Jesu am Kreuz” SWV 478 (The Seven Words of Jesus on the Cross). Five soloists joined the ensemble, supported by cello and organ. The chorus began and ended the scene, intercut by short instrumental symphonia for violins, violas, bass, and continuo on cello and organ.

The text, as with the previous Schütz work, was clear and uncompromising. To that end, the video production included subtitle translations, as understanding of the words is of paramount importance.

The work allowed for a small amount of theatrics. Bass-baritone Paul Davidson performed the role of Jesus from a pedestal on one side of the ensemble, with the other soloists opposite, presenting the liturgical text in dialogue. This arrangement was emphasized by camera cuts from one to the other soloist, though these angles did cut out the instrumentalists performing.

Davidson conveyed the humble, yet firm purpose of the suffering Christ with voice that was alternatively robust and quavering. Carter, as the first thief, added a petulant edge to his tone, while Lewis-O’Connor, as the repentant thief, rendered a remonstrative rebuke. Sentgeorge and soprano Kayleigh Aytes, as evangelist/narrators, were direct, relaying the travails with solemn presence.

The performance exhibited purity and gentleness, despite the dire subject matter, the four pieces building a cohesive, contemplative story of sacrifice and mourning.

Reviewed March 7, 2021. The performance repeats Friday, March 12 7:30 PM. Professor Paul Laird gives a pre-concert talk via zoom at 6:45 PM. For more information, visit te-deum.org.

Libby Hanssen

Originally from Indiana, Libby Hanssen covers the performing arts in Kansas City. She is the author of States of Swing: The History of the Kansas City Jazz Orchestra, 2003-2023. Along with degrees in trombone performance, Libby was a Fellow for the NEA Arts Journalism Institute at Columbia University. She maintains the culture bog "Proust Eats a Sandwich."

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