By Peter Jacobi
For the most part, the choices were wise for the weekend’s performances of the Mozart Requiem Mass in Auer Hall, whether based on necessity or otherwise.
Conductor Betsy Burleigh, given a readily available Summer Festival Chorus of 32 voices, decided that a small-scaled, chamber-sized version for the Requiem would do just fine. She added an orchestra of equal size, with the result a reading comfortable and comforting in scale, one that honored the revered masterwork.
Without many other student vocalists around to draft and expressing satisfaction with the quality of the singers signed up for her chorus, she also decided to assign solo work from within. Though not everyone chosen turned out to be ideal, on the whole, that again was not a bad resolution.
Burleigh stuck to Mozart, too. “Tonight we perform Mozart’s Requiem only,” she wrote in program notes, “that is, the portions of the work that survive in Mozart’s own hand,” along with orchestration completed by his friend and fellow composer, Franz Xaver Sussmayr. Her reasoning: “It is my hope that this performance of the incomplete Requiem will enable performer and audience member alike to recognize the loss of Mozart in a deeper and more vivid way.” Certainly, it strengthened thought about what might have been, even with the Requiem itself, if Mozart had lived longer.
Adding to that effort, the conductor placed the Requiem in a meaningful context, surrounding its performance with pertinent Biblical passages and additional pieces of music of a sacred nature that he wrote: the joyful “Exultate Jubilate,” composed as a 17-year-old (beautifully sung by soprano Martha Eason); the radiant “Laudate Dominum” (“Praise the Lord”), written in his mid-20s; the Masonic Funeral Music, composed a few years later, and the stunningly beautiful “Ave verum corpus,” like the Requiem a product of Mozart’s last year.
There also were letters from Mozart’s life that reflected what was happening to him or what he was thinking about when the various pieces of music were composed. All of the spoken material was read by Scott Hogsed, known to us for the roles he sang in Indiana University Opera Theater productions and choral events while he was a Jacobs School student. Hogsed read with verve and, thankfully, with microphone.
Burleigh had trained her 32 singers carefully, so to fashion critical balances within the chorus and those between chorus and orchestra. One heard exquisite and polished sounds, too, so appropriate, so needed, to express Mozart’s emotional frame of mind and belief in death as “key to our blessings,” to use words he penned in a letter written long before.
As one listened, it became clear that the conductor had inspired her musicians, the vocal and the instrumental, into somehow entering the world of Mozart, so to capture the sacred essences he sought to imprint personally on the traditional text and message of the Catholic Roman Catholic Requiem Mass. His genius shone through; no one on the Auer Hall stage got in the way. That’s the result of good conducting.
© Herald Times 2014