Music Review: American Classical Orchestra Plays Bach at Alice Tully Hall

November 29th, 2012

Hiroyuki Ito for The New York Times

American Classical Orchestra Choirs from Princeton, N.J., and New Haven joining this period-instrument orchestra for the Bach Magnificat on Tuesday at Alice Tully Hall.

Bach hardly needs a stacked deck to establish his supremacy. But that is pretty much what he got in an odd program presented by the period-instrument American Classical Orchestra at Alice Tully Hall on Tuesday evening.

Bach was represented by three masterworks: first the Prelude and Fugue in A minor (BWV 543) for organ, played by Gregory D’Agostino as a kind of dog-wagging tail of an encore to Handel’s middling Organ Concerto in D minor (Op. 7, No. 4), which Mr. d’Agostino had just performed with the orchestra; then the Orchestral Suite in D (BWV 1069); and after intermission the Magnificat in D (BWV 243). William Boyce’s modest Symphony No. 1 in B flat opened the program.

At the very least the Boyce and Handel works needed serious selling in this context. But Thomas Crawford, the orchestra’s music director, chose to lead them more or less passively from the harpsichord, flagging the occasional cadential slowdown.

He stood and conducted the Bach suite and Magnificat, eliciting greater attention to the contouring of phrases and dynamics. But even there, everything about his manner suggested that more than anything he wanted as much as possible to stay out of the way.

An avoidance of showboating is surely praiseworthy, and Mr. Crawford is right to trust his players, most of them being respected veterans in the excellent New York freelance pool. But sterner interventions were needed to hold things together at times, especially in the Magnificat, where there was slippage between the vocal soloists or chorus and orchestra.

The Magnificat was presented in the 1733 version, with four movements appropriate to the Christmas season interpolated from the original version of 1723. The chorus, combining the Trinity Church Choir of Men and Girls from New Haven and the Choir of Trinity Church in Princeton, N.J., handled the basic Latin text well but seemed a little at sea in the elaborate polyphony of the two German Christmas hymns, beginning each tentatively. (Again, a firmer baton might have helped.)

Light, clear and pleasant voices predominated among the soloists: Marguerite Krull and Kristen Watson, sopranos; Jeffrey Mandelbaum, countertenor; Andrew Fuchs, tenor; and Christopher DeVage, baritone.

In the Bach prelude and fugue Mr. d’Agostino drew mighty and attractive sounds from Tully Hall’s Kuhn organ and extended his unobtrusive but imaginative embellishments even to the fugue subject. As Mr. Crawford suggested in remarks from the stage, the great Tully organ is too little used.

The American Classical Orchestra’s next concert is Feb. 4 at Alice Tully Hall, Lincoln Center; (212) 362-2727, aconyc.org.

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