The major work on the “Spiritual Sunday” program was Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor, K. 427. In the pre-concert lecture, David Gordon asked for a show of hands of people who had previously heard a performance of this work. Very few hands went up. Gordon explained why. This Mass is unfinished, although we don’t know the reason why. Various editors in the past have tried to finish sections in what they thought was an appropriate”Mozartian” style, but not always with great success. What we were hearing on this occasion is the Mass in its original, unfinished condition, all 55 minutes of it.
The opening Kyrie begins with a slow, solemn plodding tempo and a chordal accompaniment, but already in its first ten measures we begin to hear counterpoint in the orchestra that shows how much Mozart had learned from studying scores by Bach. In the following Christe section, Mozart introduces the E-flat relative major with an expressive and joyful solo sung by soprano Mhairi Lawson, whose range was tested as she sang a long, soft b-flat and a-flat below middle C, and them jumped dramatically to the a-flat two octaves higher. It was a thrilling moment and beautifully accomplished by Ms. Lawson. In the Kyrie and in the Gloria that followed, the Festival Chorus successfully navigated its way through more contrapuntal passages and long melismas with an easy mastery.
In the aria, Laudamus te, we had an opportunity to hear the lovely voice of mezzo-soprano Mindy Ella Chu, whose clear diction and flexible voice brilliantly coped with more than one long and difficult melisma, while also making long trills and coloratura passages sound easy and natural. After hearing Lawson and Chu in the very effective duet in Domine, we came to one of the most startling and effective sections of the Mass with the jagged French overture rhythms of the Qui tollis. A astonishing effect is created several times when the orchestra and chorus in the space of a sixteenth-note rest go from fortissimo to pianissimo.
Tenor Tom Cooley joined Lawson and Chu in the Quoniam Terzett and created a magic moment at the end of this aria on the word “Altissimus” where twice we heard the four syllables sung as quarter notes with rests intervening between each syllable. It was a dramatic and very effective moment.
After the long and boldly brilliant Credo, we heard soprano Lawson in a splendid rendition of Et incarnatus est. This was one of the high points of the afternoon. Her clear and expressive voice carried us along magically, often with woodwinds adding imitative obligato magic as well. The ending cadenza with flute was a knockout.
The final Sanctus and Benedictus, and especially the Osanna, were suitably triumphant, and at its conclusion we found that we had been totally absorbed in this performance and didn’t want it to end.
The afternoon’s concert began with the Adagietto from Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5 performed by the Festival Orchestra conducted by Paul Goodwin. The lush string writing was augmented by a significant harp part (nicely played by Karen Kirk Thielen) and Goodwin’s direction achieved a marvel of subtle dynamics, with the loveliest drawn out diminuendo in the work’s final moments. It was so effective that it was difficult to determine when the sound ended and the silence preceding the applause began.
The most surprising work on the program was “Mother and Child” written by John Taverner in 2002. An enormously effective use of orchestra and chorus accompanied by super title projection of Brian Keeble’s poetry made this a spiritually uplifting, tonally expressive experience we won’t quickly forget. The effective use of a “Hindu Temple Gong” at the end lent credence to the influence of Greek and Sanskrit influence. This was a powerful and moving performance.