The American Classical Orchestra marks Halloween with a witty Mozart and a premiere
“Recordare”, the first word of a section of the Requiem Mass, means “Remember”. The English translation provided the title of a program performed by the American Classical Orchestra and Chorus under the direction of its founder and artistic director Thomas Crawford, Friday evening at Alice Tully Hall.
Whether coincidentally or intentionally, the concert provided a different way to observe Halloween, the eve of All Saints’ Day, when the deceased are memorialized and celebrated.
Two memorial works were on view: Mozart Requiem, commissioned to honor the late wife of an aristocrat and Crawford’s own wife Elegy, written in memory of a valued friend and colleague, and heard as a world premiere.
Following his usual practice, Crawford opened the evening with some useful pointers to Mozart’s work, noting instances of fugue, thematic imitation, homophony and picturesque text setting as the musicians played or sang a few bars. of each one.
Then it was to Elegy, which the composer accurately described as an “atmospheric tableau” expressing a reflective mood prompted by the passing of Judson Griffin, a longtime exponent of period instrument performance and, among other positions, principal violinist of the American Classical Orchestra for 30 years.
In this brief and gently evocative piece for string orchestra, a dynamic pianissimo dominated, colored by the thin and dark sonority of the gut strings. Spacious melodic lines accumulated to form harmonically ambiguous “stacked” chords. Solos for Griffin’s instruments, violin and viola, appeared briefly. With the exception of a few bars of accelerando in the middle, the piece gave, as the composer put it, “the impression that time passes patiently”, and went away as quietly as it had begun.
“Overture” for Mozart’s masterpiece was no easy task, but this well-written, unassuming piece set the stage quite satisfactorily. His melancholy mood matched the sighing violins of the RequiemCrawford’s first bars, approached with great delicacy, are matched only by the modest solo “Te decet hymnus” by soprano Yulan Piao.
The choral singing of “Kyrie”, with its final fugue, and the following “Dies irae” were not lacking in energy, but were not as intelligible as one would expect from a set of 20 voice in a medium sized room. We found ourselves wishing for clearer musical diction and articulation at various times throughout the evening.
The four vocal soloists took turns sharing the limelight in “Tuba mirum”, with baritone Joseph Charles Beutel sounding robust if a little outdone by the solo trombone, Lawrence Jones’ woodsy tenor fitting perfectly into the buttery alto of Heather Petrie and soprano Piao stepping up with a full, well-modulated sound. Here and in the last “Recordare”, the whole quartet sounded a bit unbalanced with the dominant Piao, but there was a lot to like about their elegant lines of phrasing and intertwining.
The orchestra was a model of sharp articulation in “Rex tremendae”. The choir’s sopranos and altos managed to float their smooth, uplifting entry to “salva me,” then repeated the feat, high and vibrato-free, with their angelic response in the ensuing “Confutatis.”
Chorus and orchestra were well coordinated in the sighs and swells of “Lacrimosa”. The fugal “Amen” that followed may have surprised some listeners, as it was not composed by Mozart or his pupil Franz Xaver Süssmayr, the original author of this unfinished work, but by the esteemed musicologist, pianist and Mozart whisperer Robert Levin, whose 1993 performance edition of the Requiem served as the basis for Friday’s performance.
In an effort to respect not only Mozart’s intentions, but 200 years of performance tradition, Levin was mostly content to clean up some non-Mozartean awkwardness and a thick score in Süssmayr’s sections – except for this one place, where the structure of the work seemed to call an “Amen” that was not there. So, consulting a recently discovered Mozart sketch that might have been intended for this work, and his own intimate knowledge of Mozart’s style, Levin composed one that, on Friday, swung quite convincingly and Mozart-like in a trio animated by three. -bar.
“Domine Jesu” had a lot of dynamism and sharp contrasts of forte and piano, and the chorus sounded satisfyingly robust in “Sanctus”. “Benedictus” brought a different world of silvery string sound and fine pianissimo played by brass and timpani. The solo quartet sounded warmer and better matched than before.
Strings, woodwinds and choir joined the pianissimo parade in “Agnus dei”, with the singers in particular sounding well sustained and in tune. The scene was thus planted for the tender soprano solo and the long felted choral lines of “Lux aeterna”. A rapid and fearless crossing of the fugue “Cum Sanctus tuis” for choir and orchestra closed the work with a resounding open fifth, to enthusiastic applause.
The The American Classical Orchestra presents “Healing Bach”, three cantatas by JS Bach, at 8 p.m. on March 2, 2023 at St. Vincent Ferrer Church, Lexington Avenue at 66e Street. aconyc.org.