On Saturday night at Greensboro's Christ United Methodist Church, Maestro Brotherton and his large but sharp choir joined forces with some local instrumentalists to perform two large contrasting works from the sacred Classical repertoire.
One of the most exciting aspects of the CSG is its size: in my program booklet, the members numbered over 100. In Christ Church, the choir spilled out of the choir loft, swept across the altar, and finally converged beneath the pulpit. With this many voices making sound, the effect was bound to be spectacular.
The first half of the concert consisted of Luigi Cherubini's Requiem from 1815. A requiem mass differs from a typical mass by its omission of the Gloria and Credo, and by the addition of a few other movements unique to the funeral rite, most famously the "Dies Irae."
Cherubini's Requiem begins with a mournful single line played by the bassoons and lower strings. Within a few seconds of this stark opening, the huge choir entered with lush but hushed sound, intoning the Introit, "Requiem aeternam dona eis" ("grant them eternal rest").
This choir's precision was evidenced by the consistent intelligibility of the text – an impressive feat for a 100-plus-member ensemble, especially one with open membership (singers don't audition for CSG). This precision was a testament to the performers' hard work and to Brotherton's excellent skills as a conductor and coach.
The Cherubini is a monumental piece, but the performers soldiered through, maintaining their articulation and dynamic expressiveness to the very end.
The evening's second half consisted of a mass with a completely different mood, Mozart's regal and celebratory "Coronation" Mass, K. 317. The nickname "Coronation" was added later in the piece's history, but it's an appropriate title: this piece has few solemn moments, instead being dominated by a spirit of elegance and grace.
The Mozart also contrasts with the Cherubini by its inclusion of four soloists. In Saturday night's performance, the solo lines were ably performed by soprano Joann Martinson, mezzo Kayla Brotherton, tenor D'andré Wright, and bass Jamar Tyrene. These expressive and powerful soloists added welcome color and variety to the sonic surface.
The "Coronation" mass balances its bright themes and huge variety of textures by careful correspondences between movements. By re-using musical material from the beginning of the piece in the closing movements, Mozart makes symbolic connections in the text while forming an aesthetically pleasing musical structure.
The choir's sense of expectation nearing the recapitulation was palpable, and the closing moments filled with triumphant power. For Classical music lovers, this mass is one of the timeless masterpieces of the sacred repertoire, and the audience showed its appreciation with heartfelt applause.
For a large choir with open membership, the Choral Society of Greensboro continues to perform at a very high level of artistic success. This was an excellent close to their season. Bravi!