Review (HT): “Lucky listeners enjoy The Barber and Mozart…”

Music review: Lucky listeners enjoy The Barber and Mozart as summer season ends

By Peter Jacobi H-T Reviewer | pjacobi@heraldt.com | Posted: Thursday, July 25, 2013 12:00 am       

The only significant negative about Tuesday evening’s Festival Orchestra and Chorus concert was that just one performance was given. I don’t know how many folks ended up not getting a seat, but there were dozens upon dozens hanging around a half hour before the program’s start seeking tickets.

Conductor Dominick DiOrio had chosen Auer Hall, with its short-of-400 seats, as venue, to better show off his musicians in a performance of Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, preceded by Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings in its choral “Agnus Dei” setting. Musically, that was a wise decision. The intimacy and acoustical warmth of the hall enhanced the power of both compositions, and those of us who had seats heard a strikingly beautiful concert.

The powers-that-be, however, might have considered providing a concert double, just as earlier in the summer when “Menahem Pressler & Friends” earned such repeat dosage. Pressler, all concerned recognize, can easily fill Auer twice. Choral Mozart has quite an appeal as well; a follow-up was in order.

But let’s get back to the concert itself. It has become custom to perform the C Minor Mass incompletely even though, at the premiere, Mozart put filler into the score. The Mass lacks an Agnus Dei and portions of the Credo. Conductor DiOrio rightly followed custom: no filler. One of musical history’s mysteries is why the composer did not finish such a magnificent work. Fortunately, what he left us is a wonder, sometimes intensely brooding in nature, sometimes sublimely radiant, but at all times rich in themes appropriate to message. Mozart seems always to have had melodies to spare at his mental disposal, and they abound in the C Minor.

A 30-member contingent from the Festival Orchestra took good care of the instrumental element, but the 42-member Festival Chorus was star, as should be. DiOrio, an expert choral conductor by inclination and background, had his choristers singing with sustained resonance and emotional persuasiveness. One’s ears were caressed; one’s heart was touched.

Seeking to give members of the chorus added opportunities, DiOrio assigned solo duties to 10 from within the ranks. Their movements from and back to the risers resulted in more pauses than this listener would have liked. Far more importantly, however, the conductor’s approach gave one the pleasure of hearing those 10 as soloists and in duo, trio and quartet configurations. Amazingly, six fine sopranos, each distinctive of voice, honored the score: Martha Eason, Elizabeth Toy, Katelyn Lee, Natalie Weinberg, Gyehyun Jung and Christine Buras. Add a very good mezzo, Jacquelyn Matava; a pair of able tenors (Charles Lyon Stewart and Bor Liang Lin), and the smooth baritone of Keith Schwartz, and Mozart was nobly served by choristers who proved worthy of their added duties.

For part of the Gloria in the C Minor, DiOrio turned the podium over to his assistant conductor, Juan Carlos Zamudio, who fully maintained mood and quality.

Tuesday’s concert opened with Samuel Barber’s “Agnus Dei,” his own choral arrangement of the renowned Adagio for Strings. For this, the orchestra’s strings joined the chorus to bathe the hall with beauteous sorrow. The Barber and the Mozart combined for a memorable close to Summer Music 2013.

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