Choral Music Review



Wilmington Choral Society Performs Mozart's "Coronation" Mass

May 3, 2008 - Wilmington, NC:


I have lived in the port city for over four years, but have never before attended a concert by the Wilmington Choral Society, directed by Alan Porter. This personal shortfall was recently, and pleasantly, remedied as I heard the WCS’s final performance of the 2007-08 season at Trinity United Methodist Church, which featured Mozart’s Mass in C Major (the “Coronation” Mass), K. 317.

First on the program were two works by Randall Thompson, “The Last Words of David” and “Choose Something Like a Star,” followed by Aaron Copland’s “Long Time Ago” and “Zion’s Walls.” These wholly American, 20th-century compositions served as a gratifying musical juxtaposition to the subsequent Classical mass, and while at times some of the sopranos sang a few hertz below pitch, overall the choir did well with these pieces. The group’s collective enunciation was quite clear, and, at particular moments, the balance and blend were outstanding. Pianist Byron Marshall also deserves mention for his excellent accompanying, especially with respect to tempo.

As the sixteen-member orchestra filed in for the mass, I scanned the names on the program, recognized a few, such as oboist Fumiko Yamashita of the Wilmington Symphony, and later realized that many of the string players belong to the Tallis Chamber Orchestra in Wilmington. Soon after, the vocal soloists entered; Caitlin Andrews, soprano; Sheila Bron, contralto; Jerry Cribbs, tenor, and Johannes Bron, bass.

From the opening of the Kyrie, the choir exhibited a palpable confidence toward this work. Perhaps because so many of their segments tend to be on the forte side (a bit unimaginative on Mozart’s part, I would humbly suggest), they enjoyed strong orchestral support that precluded any tentativeness. Throughout the performance, I had the sense of listening to a well-rehearsed choir concentrating its aggregate energy on the musical moment. The same must be said of the orchestra, which, despite its small size and the relative youth of many players, did a top-notch job.

Similarly, the soloists offered thoroughly professional singing. These “operatic” sections of the mass are my favorite, as one can hear Figaro and Don Giovanni on the horizon in Mozart’s career. Andrews has a voice with a nicely developing vibrato that immediately draws your attention. Her solo in the Agnus Dei was especially beautiful, and made it clear that her instrument is getting ready to blossom. Cribbs’ tenor solos were stunning, with perfect pitch and sensitive phrasing. The Brons deserve high praise as well; their contributions were significant, not just in well-sung solo passages, but especially in the quartets that they seemed to anchor.

While the concert was fairly well attended, for a “donations appreciated” event, one might have expected a packed house. Nevertheless, those who were fortunate enough to hear the performance likely would have paid for a ticket to hear Mozart done so well.