On the evening of November 9, Christ United Methodist Church opened its doors to audience members of all ages who flocked to hear Franz Schubert's Mass in E-Flat. The Choral Society of Greensboro performed this work, which helped celebrate its 30th anniversary. The choir was joined by a pick-up orchestra of 28 instrumentalists. Jon Brotherton conducted. The concert was sponsored by OPUS; for the upcoming OPUS concerts, please click here. There was a pretty substantial crowd – almost every pew on the ground level was full, and there were several people seated in the balcony.
Schubert's Mass in E-flat is his sixth and final mass. It was first performed on October 4, 1829, almost a year after Schubert's death. This Mass follows the traditional organization: Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus, and Agnus Dei. It is scored for SATB chorus with soprano, alto, bass, and two tenor soloists and orchestra.
The Kyrie movement began beautifully, with the choir singing and the orchestra playing quietly. The dynamic prowess of this ensemble was remarkable, to say the least. Early on, there was a chord that was played and sung forte, quickly followed by a diminuendo. The voices of the choir blended incredibly well – it was nearly impossible to hear individual voices, even though I was sitting very close to the choir.
The Gloria was equally beautiful. I was caught off-guard by the choir starting the movement without the orchestra; it was a really neat effect. The "Domine Deus, Agnus Dei" section of the Gloria was a very different tone from the previous material and the juxtaposition between the two was chill-inducing, especially with the acoustics of the sanctuary. The change in tone of music corresponded with the change of tone in the text. The movement ended with a lovely fugue.
The Credo movement began with a cappella choir, as did the Gloria, with the orchestra punctuating between lines. This is the first movement to have soloists perform. I was very intrigued by how solos were handled; different singers performed the solos in each movement. The soloists for this movement, Donna Lawing, soprano, Lucas Johnston, tenor I, and Mikell Wooten, tenor II, stepped forward from the ensemble to sing their trio. The duet between the two tenors in this movement was definitely a highlight of the performance. Both vocalists had pure tones and their voices blended wonderfully. The choir did an especially good job with the "Crucifixus" interjections into the trio. The movement ended with a really beautiful "Amen."
The first two minutes or so of the Sanctus movement were absolutely incredible – the dynamic contrast between lines was stunning. The choir and orchestra moved easily from pianissimo to fortissimo within just a few bars. It was simply marvelous. After this strong opening, the tenors began a fugue on the words "Osanna in excelsis," a common phrase upon which to build a fugue.
The Benedictus features the first quartet of the Mass. Soloists Christy Bergman, soprano, Rebecca Suco, mezzo-soprano, John Huff, tenor, and Jamar Tyree, bass, had a great mix and sounded fantastic together. I believe the most beautiful parts of this movement, however, occurred when the choir came in and sang their own lines. The movement ends with another fugue on "Osanna in excelsis," begun again by the tenors.
The final movement was the Agnus Dei, by far my favorite of the six. The bass singers and horns started the movement with a really ominous feeling that continued on for a good portion of the movement. Another quartet was featured in this movement, with Tori Salisbury, soprano, Kayla Brotherton, mezzo-soprano, Wooten, tenor, and Bill Frisch, bass. They had a nice sound, but they were a bit bottom-heavy. The movement ended very quietly and peacefully; it was well executed and quite lovely.
The balance between the voices and the orchestra was pretty good; there were a few instances when the orchestra overpowered the choir when the voices were singing piano, but these instances were few and far between. Brotherton did a great job; he was very precise and his leadership was very effective. This group took this music and brought it to life. This was a fantastic performance.
The Choral Society's season continues on May 17. For details, click here.