Choral Music Review



Little Delights in Out-of-the-Way Places

May 7, 2006 - Durham, NC:


Within reason, I would never pass up an opportunity to hear Schubert's Mass No 2 one more time, no matter how many times I have heard it and sung it. Thus I found myself in the steady chilly rain on Sunday afternoon, May 7, wending my way to Westminster Presbyterian Church in Durham. The combined choirs of Westminster and First Presbyterian churches and a handful of the Triangle's treasure of instrumentalists presented a performance of two charming and uplifting masses in just a little under an hour, followed by a lovely reception with hot apple cider (most welcomed), canapés, cheese and crackers, and petit fours and the opportunity to greet musicians and old friends. It was an ideal Sunday afternoon delight.

The first mass was the melodic and unforgettable product of the 18-year-old unhappy school teacher who in that year produced "Der Erlkönig," two symphonies, a string quartet, two piano sonatas, two masses, and more. The music flowed from him by way of manuscript paper and copyists and through instruments and voices flowed into the hearts of listeners from Vienna to the ends of the earth. Schubert's Mass No. 2 in G Major flowed off the modern printed page again on Sunday afternoon in a nearly flawless manner. Eleven string players and Thomas Warburton at the organ accompanied a fine choral sound from the combined choirs. The conductor was Monica Umstaedt Rossman, Minister of Music at Westminster, and excellent solos were sung by some voices not unfamiliar to Triangle choral music enthusiasts: sopranos Jean Allen and Lesley Curtis, bass Michael Heath, and tenor Jack Allen. The Benedictus was especially beautiful as done by Curtis, Allen, and Heath. I imagined I was in the Liechtenthal Parish Church in 1815. Schubert's Mass No 1 in F major had been performed there a year earlier to great acclaim at the one hundredth anniversary celebration of this Augustinian church. And this afternoon was a glimpse into the mind of one of the melodic geniuses of all time.

Also, as a bow to the 250th anniversary of the birth of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, we heard his Missa Brevis in C, K.258. Mozart was 20 when this mass was composed in 1776. (Ah, what different things were going on in the land we call home in that year!) It was written for the consecration as bishop of Count Spaur and has been known as the "Spaur Mass" ever since. Filled with joyous tunes, crisp rhythms, typically clever Mozartian harmonic workings, and with added tympani and trumpets, it is a work of buoyant celebration. In addition to Curtis, Allen, Allen, and Heath, solos were sung by alto Pat Gunter and tenor Brent Curtis.

Next year a spring choral concert featuring these combined singers will be held at First Presbyterian, where the Minister of Music is Kathryn Cain Parkins. It will be a worthwhile and welcome addition to the Triangle's rich musical scene.