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Suppose you were asked to name a composer who could lay claim to having studied with both Mozart and Haydn. Also you could be further advised that he was the beneficiary of schooling from the likes of Clementi, Salieri, and Beethoven’s mentor, Albrechtsberger. Last clue: His compositions for the piano were said to have influenced even Chopin.
If you answered Hummel, then you just might qualify as a genuine music history maven. Or instead, perhaps you simply attended the presentation of that composer’s Te Deum and his Missa Solemnis in C at Hillyer Memorial Christian Church on an overcast Sunday afternoon. Performing there was the Hillyer Community Chorus, with four soloists, soprano Kathryn Atkinson, alto Nancy Brenner, tenor Tom Hawkins, and bass Lewis Moore. Paul B. Conway directed these singers along with an orchestra of some twenty-three members.
The opening strains of “Te Deum laudamus” showed the chorus and instrumentalists to be well prepared and disciplined. The music, a departure from Hummel’s better-known piano and various concerto pieces, was what one could refer to as “early nineteenth century generic.” But despite such faint praise, the two works contained elements of great charm.
In the Gloria section of the Mass, the choral singers reached their finest form at the a cappella lines beginning with “qui tollis peccata mundi.” It was in such quiet passages that their ensemble quality was most evident. The orchestral competence was on best display in the somber opening lines of the Benedictus, and again at the beginning of the Agnus Dei. These places seemed to provide the most obvious departures from the aforementioned “generic” nature of the music.
The soloists rate special mention as being free of obvious weaknesses. “Soloist” is scarcely the accurate word here, though. They performed mainly as a quartet, with rather brief solo passages interspersed. At some point during each of the six sections of the Mass, the quartet’s relative pianissimo provided a pleasing contrast to the fortissimo of the huge chorus.
As is their wont, Conway and the Hillyer Memorial Christian Church have displayed yet another uncommon bit of artistry that is genuinely worth a hearing.