CA - In their annual spring concert at Bel Air Presbyterian on March 26, the
Angeles Chorale presented a program of works composed before and after great world wars which took place 150 years apart. The first work asks God’s protection from strife, and the last seeks God’s peace and refuge from strife. The sanctuary was filled with an audience eager to hear the evening’s performance.
First on the program, the
Mass in Time of War was written late in Haydn’s life, when Napoleon’s army approached Vienna’s gates and invasion was imminent. His setting reflects the uneasy mood of the time, with timpani (pauken) symbolizing the approaching army’s footsteps, and trumpets echoing the martial fanfares in the distance. This device gave the mass its informal German name of Paukenmesse, or timpani mass.
The choir and orchestra gave a fully-realized reading of Haydn’s work, led by Maestro Paul
Salamunovich, Music Director Emeritus of the Los Angeles Master Chorale
and an Angeles Chorale Board Member. The choir sang with a period-appropriate sound, light, flexible and well balanced with the orchestra. The "amen" fugue in the Gloria modeled the best of baroque singing, each line clearly audible yet not intruding on the others. Tempo transitions in the
Qui Tollis and Miserere were smooth and the combined forces very responsive to the conductor.
Samela Aird Beasom sang the soprano passages in the
Benedictus with ease and agility. Her clear tone and diction made the most of the interplay between soloist, choir and orchestra. The other soloists were not as fortunate; their efforts seemed more labored, and for the mezzo and bass, were all but inaudible.
The strings produced a warm, full sound, particularly the cellist in her skilled and sensitive playing in the
Miserere. The trademark timpani and trumpet passage clearly evoked the feeling of foreboding. In the final
Agnus Dei, the line arched nicely, with the phrases tapered to a whisper, concluding with a worshipful "dona nobis pacem." In all, the collaboration had the relaxed, effortless feel of good friends making music together.
the Chorale presented the Duruflé Requiem, unequivocally the best part of the program. Based on Gregorian themes from the
Mass for the Dead, the work is scored for organ, orchestra, choir and soloists, and presents the composer’s vision of the soul’s departure from life to a peaceful eternity. The voices carry the chant parts of the mass, sung with varying rhythms and meters, but always recognizable. Underneath the singing, the instrumental parts swirl in an impressionistic accompaniment full of sonorous textures. Completed in 1947, the
Requiem evokes fervent faith, aching hope and a longing for eternal tranquility by a world recovering from upheaval.
Superbly led by Thea
Kano, Angeles Chorale Assistant Director and UCLA doctoral candidate in conducting, the singers mirrored her passion for this music, responding with artistic fervor de la coeur et le
âme. The unison chant forms were beautifully articulated by the singers, whose rich tone and impeccable blend added emotional depth to the tunes and texts. The women’s voices had lovely control and expression during soft high entrances, while the men’s voices exhibited a richness of sound that enhanced the orchestral scoring in their passages.
Bel Air Presbyterian organist and artist in residence John West masterfully played the Requiem’s integral organ passages. Sadly, because they were far more than a pick-up orchestra, the other players were not mentioned in the program. As a group they articulated the transparencies as well as the richest textures in the scoring, with particularly thoughtful playing from the cello and the organ in the Pie
Jesu, where mezzo Minna Edel displayed her upper range. Each player’s musicality was evident in their sensitivity and solid but not overpowering skill.
Somewhere during the Domine Jesu Christe the performance became something greater; the music had insinuated itself into the listener’s subconscious, and the audience and the performers became one feeling unit. The sense of awe and worship was palpable, and as the last notes of the In Paradisum faded, there was a collective intake of breath, as if we had forgotten to breathe. The audience then rose to its feet and gave the performers a richly deserved standing ovation.
Afterward, Ms. Kano gave heartfelt thanks to her mentoring professor, Donald
Neuen, Director of the Angeles Chorale, for his guidance during her doctoral studies. The evening concluded with
Duruflé’s Ubi Caritas, an encore dedicated to Mr. Neuen, recuperating from hip replacement surgery and seated in the audience for the first time in seven years. Translated, the Latin text in part says, where there is love and charity, there also is God. No more fitting piece could have been chosen to close this moving musical
experience. - N. Riley Printable