Local Scene: Leaves and Trees, Hannover

Great to be somewhere that has a local music scene.  Hannover indie-folk band Leaves and Trees released their first EP on April 23rd.  The release show/party at LUX was full by the time we arrived (from a concert of Max Reger's choral music at the Marktkirche by way of  the Pfannekuchen Haus) so we hung around sheltering from the wind in front of a locked door facing the Schwarzer Bär tram stop, that appeared to be next to the stage as it transmitted the sound quite well.  Only a couple of beers from a nearby kiosk would have been necessary to complete the Just Kids Too Young to Get Inside picture, but we didn't bother... good sounds coming through the door, though.  Nice arrangements, with good use of cello.  I'll buy the EP at Bandcamp  (where it can also be streamed).

The signature tune is Who Is That Man, for which a very well done video that tells a story that goes beyond the lyrics, is available on YouTube (you'll get an accurate impression of the local woodlands from watching it):

There's also a nice video of lead singer Fabian Baumert singing another song from the EP at a singer-songwriter slam at local club Kulturpalast Linden:

I don't think every post about a band's new EP needs to be a "review", comparing it to the writer's favorite bands and the world's top artists, etc... and opining about a band's chance of "making it" instead of just enjoying their music. Nevertheless, since this EP and the Who Is That Man? video evince very high production values that might suggest eventual goals wider than just local or regional success, a few comments along those lines. I think that's not an implausible possibility. I don't really know what the indie-folk scene or possibilities are these days---but a little investigation suggests there are some pretty nice festivals and things around Europe with bands I enjoyed checking out on the web. (The opening band for L&T's LUX show was one.) Maybe there was a moment a few years back, when with Mumford and Sons and Bon Iver and such, indie-folkish singer-songwriter music was going mainstream, and maybe that moment is over, making some modest success for this type of band, that sort that can lead to an extended career for a band making a living from music, tougher. I like all the songs on the EP, like the overall band sound, and like Fabian Baumert's singing. A little bit of gentle, almost Nordic North-German melancholy in the mix is very nice. Uncomplicated, but not completely predictable, song and chord structure, beautifully arranged. Relaxed tempos and feel in general. The sound on the EP seems very good, possibly a little crunchy in the treble but I have only streamed it yet; the FLAC and CD may fix that. I'm reluctant to say such a thing, but I do think that to have a broader---say, international---appeal, it would be good if Mr. Baumert's accent when singing in English, which is generally quite good, were even more natural. Some of the lyrics are hard to understand, and in this kind of music that can be crucial. On a light note, it is risky to include "Whoa", let alone "Whoa-oah-oh", in lyrics, especially when you're playing acoustic guitar. It works out fine here.

If you have a local band of this quality, go to their shows, buy their music, and support them. Here's hoping Leaves and Trees get the opportunity to write and play much more and continue to grow.

Bach, Johannes-Passion, Bachchor und Orchester Hannover, Marktkirche

I attended a performance of J.S. Bach's Passion according to St. John (Johannespassion) by the  Hannover Bach Choir and Orchestra last night at the Marktkirche in the central market square of Hannover's old town. I may or may not have listened my way through this work on LP as a youngster, and probably did overhear it on the stereo growing up, but this is probably my first careful listen to the whole piece. (About two hours, no intermission though a brief episode of tuning between the two sections.)  A very rewarding if, obviously, fairly solemn two hours.  Really superb choral singing with the different vocal parts sufficiently distinct and the words very clear (well, especially with the aid of a program given my limited German) but the choir unified.  Remarkably dramatic effect when the choir portrays the crowds present at the high priest's and Pilate's interrogations of Jesus, contrasting with the choir's other main role as expressing Christian sentiments from a point of view that is not necessarily within the narrative aspect of the piece (but might also be taken so, as expressing another aspect of experience of some in the crowd).  The latter is usually in hymn-like chorales, but also often (as in the opening "Herr, unser Herrscher dessen Ruhm") in more complex and extended episodes with more involvement of the orchestra.  The visible wind instruments were baroque in appearance, there was a large lute, and I suspect the string section and most or all of the rest of the orchestra was original style instruments as well.  Tempos were relatively fast, and the resulting sound was excellent, though for some reason the orchestra came across with less clarity than the singers---the relatively reverberant acoustic of the tall, relatively open North German gothic brick hall church maybe having something to do with that. On balance I think the original instruments and the chosen tempos gave a somewhat rough, unprettified, but still accurate and well-played, effect that worked extremely well in the piece, accentuating its seriousness.  Some passages, in which the choir and orchestra engaged in extended contrapuntal reflection upon a dramatic development, or expression of the crowd's intention or reaction, with voices and instruments becoming a swirl of fast-moving harmonies and passing tones, attained an eerie and dramatic effect that reminded me of some century postserialism, maybe Ligeti or Penderecki.   The soloists were really excellent and did everything well.  Such a performance is definitely not about attention-getting individual vocals but all the soloists did have, in performances that were consistent throughout, some songs that really stood out in expressing key moments in the drama.   Alto Christian Rohrbach has a beautiful clear voice and delivered "Es ist vollbracht!" perfectly; the soprano soloist (either Miriam Meyer or Nadine Dilger; two sopranos are listed in the program) was especially affecting (though never overdoing it) with "Zerfließe, mein Herze" ("Dein Jesus ist tot!"); bass Albrecht Pohl did a great job of handling a variety of vocal tasks in combining the role of Pilate with many additional bass arias.  Johannes Strauß was especially outstanding as the Evangelist---he has an amazingly clear and beautiful tenor voice, deployed with perfect control.

Of course an extended piece like this with religious and dramatic aspects is an occasion for plenty of reflection on musical aspects of the piece but also on these in relation to the human condition.  One of the more interesting aspects of this piece for me was the amount of attention given to the political and social aspect of the story: the interaction with Pilate (I don't fully understand what's going on here yet), the issue about Jesus being called "King of the Jews" but asserting "My kingdom is not of this world", the high priest and the servant, and later the crowd after the exchange with Pilate "Shall I crucify your king?" "We have no King but the Emperor", calling for Jesus' crucifixion.  (There seems to be an emphasis on "the Jews" delivering Jesus to Pilate and calling for his crucifixion in this text.)

A superb, clear, controlled and well-thought-out performance and a perfect way to get better acquainted with this serious, reflective, many-faceted masterwork of Bach's.