Sunday afternoon’s performance of the Mozart Requiem honored the memory of Hans Tischler, the eminent musicologist and wonderfully affable gentleman who passed away last week at the age of 95. I believe he would have been well pleased.
Richard Tang Yuk, a visiting senior lecturer in choral conducting at the Jacobs School, led a warm and stirring interpretation by the University Singers, 33 of them, and a 40-player IU Chamber Orchestra. That meant he decided on a smaller aggregation of musicians than many conductors employ these days, but they produced sounds sufficient to test the limits of Auer Hall. And the sounds produced proved evocative of the awe and majesty and fear and yearning for rest and peace that a dying Mozart undoubtedly meant to express in a Requiem that he came to believe marked his own passage to the beyond.
Indeed, the composer left the work unfinished. Tang Yuk used the most commonly chosen version of the Requiem, one completed by Mozart’s student, Franz Xaver Sussmayr. It is not everyone’s choice and, like others that have been arranged from what Mozart left, leads to thoughts of what might have been, had he lived to perfect it. Unfortunately, there is no might have been. We feast on what there is, and that more than satisfies when the performance soars and sighs as did this one.
Rather than the four vocal soloists usually called for, Tang Yuk spread the opportunities to 12 selected from within the ranks of the University Singers. That may have somewhat reduced the sense of continuity gained from hearing a stable quartet, but the chosen met their obligations capably and also served notice to listeners that it takes fine individual voices to shape a fine chorus such as the one they were hearing.
Auer Hall was filled to capacity, as it was said to be on the previous Thursday evening, when the program was first given. Tang Yuk preceded the Requiem with an instrumental work of 20th century origin. The strings of the Chamber Orchestra were joined by three soloists — pianist Alice Baldwin, harpist Maggie Grove and harpsichordist Jooeun Pak — in a performance of Frank Martin’s “Petite Symphonie Concertante.” The Swiss composer wrote the piece in the 1940s and in the format of a Baroque concerto grosso. The sound, however, is contemporary and intriguing, with aspects of impressionism a la Debussy, Schoenbergian 12-tone chromaticism and touches of Prokofiev. The soloists were excellent, and Tang Yuk balanced their efforts nicely with the orchestra.
Jacobs School musicologist Alan Theisen offered a pre-concert talk on the Martin. It was enlightening in content, well prepared and delivered with absolute clarity. The man had the good sense, which virtually no one else seems to in Auer Hall, to use a microphone. He spoke distinctly into it, and his words of wisdom rolled forth. Give him a promotion.