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Monday, August 22, 2016

Concert Review: The Total Mass Retain

Mostly Mozart goes to church...twice.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Conductor Louis Langrée.
Photo © 2016 Mostly Mozart Festival/Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts.

Four singers made their debuts at the Mostly Mozart Festival on Friday night, singing two major choral works by the Austrian composer: the Mass in C minor and the Requiem. Both compositions were begun at key moments in Mozart's tumultuous life. Due to extenuating circumstances, each of these grand choral compositions was left unfinished.

The so-called Great Mass was started in 1782, when Mozart had just moved to Vienna. Mozart left the Credo and the Sanctus unfinished, and never completed work on the Agnus Dei. It was presented here in an edition supervised by Mostly Mozart music director Louis Langrée, who also conducted this performance, with a reconstruction of the Sanctus and the Benedictus.

Under Mr. Langrée's baton, the orchestra and Concert Chorale lifted their voices in the opening of the Kyrie. The performance featured the aforementioned soloists, led by the firmament-reaching soprano of Joélle Harvey, a singer whose impressive upper register carried the clean and precise tones in an ever-ascending spiral of sound. Mezzo Cecelia Hall and tenor Alek Shrader twined their voices with the soprano in the delicate trio at the climax of the Gloria.

If the Great Mass was set aside in the middle of life, the Requiem was the subject of feverish activity at the time of the composer's death in 1791. It was commissioned by a nobleman who wanted to pass off Mozart's work as his own. Mozart
finished the work up to the Lacrymosa of the second movement, but died of fever on the morning of December 5. Contrary to Broadway, Hollywood and the popular imagination, Antonio Salieri was not involved in his death in any way.

Thanks to the efforts of Mozart's widow Konstanze, two composers worked to finish the remaining sections of the work, using both Mozart's sketches and original material to present a complete Mass. Here, Mr. Langrée presented a slightly shortened version of the finished work, ignoring modern thought on the "Amen" at the end of the Dies Irae and presenting his own edition of the work. He included the two movements (Sanctus and Benedictus that are the work of composer F.X. Süssmayer. They remain controversial.

The later style of the Requiem calls for an expanded role for the chorus, who open the work with an intricate four-part-treatment of the call for eternal rest. This theme then expands into hurried, juddering rhythms and a rapidly descending counterpoint. Taut orchestral playing supported singers and chorus, as Mozart shifted between solo singing, ensemble and a full-throated plea for divine mercy that brought tenor Alek Shrader and bass Christian Van Horn into the limelight. There was a hint of a pause at the Lacrymosa, as if in nodding observance of the composer's death and the work's unfinished nature.

Mr. Langrée made short work of the two Süssmayer movements, following with the carefully reconstructed Agnus Dei. The final Lux Aeterna provided a velvet setting for Ms. Harvey's clear, exquisite voice, before the last chorus, using the same music as the opening of this work, brought the Requiem to its familiar and full circle.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats

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Since 2007, Superconductor has grown from an occasional concert or CD review to a near-daily publication covering classical music, opera and the arts in and around NYC, with excursions to Boston, Philadelphia, and upstate NY. I am a freelance writer living and working in Brooklyn NY. And no, I'm not a conductor.