Review: Mostly Mozart’s C-minor Mass and Requiem—A Study in Contrasts
By Jose Andrade, Contributing Writer, August 23, 2016
Of Mozart’s 60-plus sacred choral works, two of the most popular are his Great Mass in C minor and his Requiem in D minor. Any choral performance presenting either the Requiem or the Great Mass is the highlight of any performance: big, robust popular works. When I first heard Mostly Mozart Festival had scheduled a performance with both of these works in one evening, I must admit I was somewhat skeptical of the combined programming, but was hopeful something grand, and possibly great, might be in store for us at David Geffen Hall.
Both performances were impressive, but for different reasons: the Great Mass was strong and imposing, while the Requiem possessed a more fresh and reflective nature. This success was due to Mostly Mozart Festival’s Music Director Louis Langrée, who both conducted and rescored the two pieces. Placing the Mostly Mozart Orchestra at the front of the performance space, his soloists and choir performed from the back of the space which surprisingly worked well.
Throughout the Great Mass, Langrée alternated between piano and forté sections, giving a very powerful, straight-forward performance. His “Et incarnatus est,” towards the end was executed with a touching delicacy which contrasted nicely with the large choral pieces surrounding it. Langrée rescoring of the Great Mass included adding timapni, trumpet and trombone parts, as well as the realization of the “Sanctus” and the “Benedictus” sections.
The heart of these two Mozart masses is the choir, essayed by the Concert Chorale of New York, which created an interesting image as they were arranged in about 12 clusters of sopranos, altos, tenors, and basses—tall, medium and short alternating along the risers. Despite the jagged image, their sound was perfect as each choir member confidently dispatched their duties, creating a well-balanced organic vocal sound. Although most of their work was in the forté dynamic, when they performed more quiet passages, they were indeed impressive.
For both the Great Mass and Requiem, Maestro Langrée took special attention to keep his forces in check for his soloists to shine: soprano Joélle Harvey, mezzo-soprano Cecilia Hall, tenor Alek Schrader and bass-baritone Christian van Horn, all making their Mostly Mozart debuts. Ms. Harvey skillfully negotiated Mozart’s murderous range demands in the Great Mass, with a sweet sound, while Cecelia Hall added a few embellishments to her “Laudate,” in the Great Mass, beaming with an infectious joy. Both Alek Schrader and Christian van Horn performed solidly in the Great Mass, and showcased their exceptional talents in the Requiem.
If the Great Mass was straight-forward, this Requiem went in a different direction, painting a far more detailed image of Mozart’s mournful masterpiece . Maestro Langrée began the “Introitus” with restraint, allowing a subtle build-up in tempo, and using staccato with his horns to emphasize his points. By the third section, the “Dies Irae,” Langrée was at break-neck speed while retaining dynamic control. A slightly increased tempo in the “Hoastias” gave it a sincere quality not usually associated with the piece. Towards the end of the Requiem, Langrée again utilized a tempo build-up in the “Agnus Dei” this time into to a frenetic climax, then releasing the beat to a more relaxed, conciliatory, and reflective sound. A diminished chord at the very end of the piece was a fitting end to Langrée’s very interesting and rewarding Mozart Requiem.