BSO presents memorable combo: 'Passion of Joan of Arc,' 'Voices of Light'
The unblinking closeups used by director Carl Theodor Dreyer in the movie are justly famous -- the looming faces of the judges; the dazed Joan, tilting her head upward, looking in vain for genuine sympathy; the eager jailers and torturers.
Occasional overhead shots are likewise startling; you can feel the ground shifting as the forces against Joan unite in their unshakable need for her confession or her death.
What I think is most astonishing of all about the film is how it still speaks to us, even in our digital movie age. The black and white is as searing as any 3-D, high-gloss color extravaganza today. More significant still is how the issues depicted in Dreyer's film (he used the trial transcripts as the basis for the project) have an uncanny way of feeling very contemporary, sometimes disturbingly so.
In 2004, "The Passion of Joan of Arc" was offered in tandem with Einhorn's 1994 score by the Baltimore Choral Arts Society, I was struck by how it conjured all-too-fresh realities from our world at the time -- "when," as I wrote, "we are steeped in images of tortured prisoners and executed innocents, and when we are even hearing talk of communion being withheld from politicians who stray from church teaching."
In 2012, not much seems to have changed, as I was reminded Friday night at Meyerhoff Hall, when ...
We've just heard quite a chorus of strident male voices in our country targeting a young woman who spoke out for reproductive rights and women's health. And the other day, reports surfaced of a priest in the D.C. area refusing communion to a woman he accused of being unworthy -- she lives with another woman -- even though the occasion was her own mother's funeral.Such resonances made the visual experience on Friday all the more stinging. The aural experience emanating from the musical forces onstage proved just as powerful, guided by Marin Alsop with calm authority and expressive richness.
The conductor seemed deeply connected to Einhorn's fusion of medieval chant and gentle minimalist flavoring, which provides a poignant counterpoint to the often hard-to-watch imagery on screen. Rather than playing the traditional role of a click-track film score, the music is more a reflection on the action than a depiction of it, with texts drawn from scripture, poetry of Joan's time and more.
The BSO summoned a beautiful patina of instrumental coloring on Friday, helping to cast a spell as hypnotic as Dreyer's masterpiece. Concertmaster Jonathan Carney and principal cellist Dariusz Skoraczewski delivered their solos eloquently.
The Baltimore Choral Arts Society, prepared by director Tom Hall, produced a glowing, well-balanced sound and phrased with admirable sensitivity. The guest vocal artists -- soprano Julie Bosworth, alto Janna Critz, tenor Tyler Lee, baritone David Williams -- provided the finishing touch with their elegance of technique and subtle nuance.