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On the afternoon of March 14, in Reeves Auditorium, the spirits of the audience were uplifted by the first performance of Mozart's Requiem on the Methodist College campus since 1991, the bicentennial year of Mozart's death in Vienna. The Cumberland Oratorio singers and soloists Anne Rogers, soprano, Robin Lynne Frye, mezzo-soprano, John Daniecki, tenor, and Robert Holquist, bass-baritone, and a semi-pro community orchestra, were directed by Alan M. Porter, conductor. The pre-concert lecture was presented by Sue Snyder.
In a clever bit of programming, the singers' voices were able to warm up with confidence before embarking upon the Requiem . The short motet "Ave Verum Corpus," written about six months before Mozart's death, was exquisitely performed. The composition of the Requiem was still in progress at the time of Mozart's passing, so it was entirely appropriate to use these two works together on the same program. Porter's program notes explain that the edition used in this concert is by Franz Beyer, who altered and corrected the work of Mozart's student, Franz Sussmayr, in order to bring the score together with something closer to a Mozart sound.
The Cumberland Oratorio Singers excelled in imparting the message of the Mozart Requiem to the audience, in part because they were prepared by a conductor who has immersed himself in Mozartiana. Porter spent his 1991 sabbatical doing extensive research in Salzburg, Mozart's birthplace, and in Vienna. The last performance of the work at Methodist College was a part of a festival that completed his sabbatical project. The American Organist, the magazine of the American Guild of Organists, notes Porter's 35-year accomplishments at Methodist College in its current issue. The conductor continues his vocation in an emeritus position.
The words "Et lux perpetua" rang out gloriously in full chorus within the oratorio's restrained opening section of the Requiem and Kyrie. Rogers sang memorably the words that translate "To Thee is praise given...." Originally from Dorset, England, she has worked with some of England's finest conductors (including David Willcocks), and she acquitted herself well, bringing distinction to the performance.
The chorus continued with a strong "Kyrie eleison," but the orchestra had not developed a homogenous sound, and one could almost hear individual instruments; this probably was the fault of the acoustics. As I searched for words to express the warmth with which the performance was received despite things I had noticed that were slightly amiss, I was reminded of the words of the late harpsichordist Wanda Landowska, who said, "The hearts of my audience are my acoustics." Porter must have sensed that his work was resonating in the hearts of his audience.
"Rex, Rex, Rex..." the chorus implored, continuing with "Salva me" ("Save me"), presented with lovely antiphonal balance, and the orchestra made a notably nice finish to Rex Tremendae. In the Recordare, the orchestra made a strained entrance but supported the mezzo and bass soloists nicely while Frye and Holquist skillfully balanced each other's entrances. Daniecki followed with equal strength, and with the crescendo, it was almost not noticeable that soprano Anne Rogers had joined the ensemble, too; the sound was glorious. The four voices were well matched, and Frye displayed outstanding velvety vocal quality, breath control, and presence.
Confutatis was a lovely bit of choral work. In her pre-concert lecture, Snyder had prepared us to listen for the Lacrimosa's effective depiction of the tears of the people facing judgment. The orchestral transition to the Lacrimosa was squeaky but a lovely soprano section rose out of the ashes, parallel to the meaning of the words.
In the Domine Jesu, there was good contrast in the full choral work between the "Domine Jesu Christe and "Rex gloriae" sections, the former pianissimo and the latter, fortissimo. After a tentative introduction to Hostias, a lovely tune unfolded, and although the vocal quality seemed lacking, the orchestra was nicely blended. Uplifted by the Sanctus that follows, we also gave the choral ensemble high points for diction; it was relatively easy to follow the Latin words throughout. The Benedictus, sung by the well-matched solo quartet, seemed too loud, the men's voices here a bit scratchy and the orchestra loud as well.
With the crescendo of the final section, Agnus Dei, a baby in the audience chimed in, but then the glorious sound of the choral burst of light (in translation, "Let light everlasting shine upon them") made everything right.