NZSM and Cantoris Choir present:
MOZART – Symphony No. 35 in D K.385 “Haffner”
– Mass in C Minor K.427 “The Great”
– Motet “Ave Verum Corpus” K.618
Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music Orchestra
Reuben Brown (conductor – “Haffner” Symphony)
Georgia Jamieson Emms, Michaela Cadwgan (sopranos)
Jamie Young (tenor), William King (bass)
Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music Orchestra
Thomas Nikora (Music Director, Cantoris Choir – “The Great” Mass)
Saturday, 24th April, 2021
“The devil take organisations that programme concerts for Saturday nights” I muttered repeatedly to myself, driving around Wellington’s busy streets, and looking for a car-park with mounting desperation as the Cantoris/NZSM concert’s starting time drew nearer and nearer! Eventually, after hurriedly walking to the church from a circuitously discovered parking space several blocks away, I arrived to find the front door closed and everybody else seated! I was, however, admitted, and, thanks to some introductory preamble from the concert’s organisers, actually got to my seat before a note had been played, as a result admitting to myself grudgingly that my near-lateness was really my own fault!
Such a good thing that I’d “made it” though, despite my organisational misjudgements – because the concert’s opening item, Mozart’s joyous and celebratory “Haffner” Symphony was given a totally invigorating performance by the student musicians under the direction of their conductor, Reuben Brown, one whose every note I thought tingled with life in the playing! – nowhere could I sense a mechanical or a “going through the motions” impulse, be it those opening shouts of octave-spanning exuberance or the murmured exchanges that contrasted with the enthusiastic outbursts.
Throughout, the dynamics constantly made us prick up our ears to exhilarating effect, as did the balancing of winds and strings in the upward flourishes, the winds elsewhere making the most of their expressive passages, conductor and players together shaping the themes with real feeling, but without ever letting the life-pulses of the music slacken.
The exquisite slow movement was given the space its themes needed to work their magic, the string passages having a delicacy that charmed our senses, as did the bassoon’s droll accompaniments, the lyrical lines singing their hearts out, with strings, then winds taking the lead, the oboes’ partnership a pleasure, and the horns discreetly colouring the ambiences.
I thought the Minuet needed a touch more rustic bravado for the opening to make the most of its “swagger set against elegance” exchange, but the point was made, and the trio allowed the winds, led by the oboes, to emphasise the “grace” of the sequence.
The finale I thought terrific, the control by conductor and players over the accented dynamics of the contrasting phrases was so very ear-catching, done with a feeling of spontaneity that gave it all an edge and an excitement that I thought captured the composer’s youthful genius – a most enjoyable performance that was enthusiastically received at the end, and justly so!
And so, after an interval, it was Cantoris Choir’s turn, this evening celebrating its fiftieth anniversary year by showing what it could do with a work reckoned to be one of Mozart’s finest, his Mass in C Minor K.427, often called the “Great Mass”. Mozart was no stranger to settings of the liturgy, having produced at least fifteen settings of what was known as the “Ordinary” (the Latin text) of the Mass during his early Salzburg years, besides various other “sacred” works for different forms of worship, However, once he had left Salzburg for Vienna, he concentrated almost exclusively on secular works, apart from this “Great Mass”, and the later Requiem (1791), both works being left unfinished. The Great Mass was actually written for the occasion of his first return visit to Salzburg with his new wife, Constanza, in 1783 – in fact Constanza sang the “Et incarnatus est” section from the “Credo” at the work’s premiere in Salzburg. Interestingly, Mozart never attempted to finish the mass’s uncompleted parts (such as in the “Credo”), or add the missing “Agnus Dei”.
Beginning with a great archway of sounds growing out of a sombre instrumental beginning, the work’s opening Kyrie here sang out splendidly, the textures rich and full, thanks to adroit balancing of the forces, with perhaps the brasses being accorded slightly more ear-catching prominence than we needed, exciting though the sounds were. Thomas Nikora and his singers brought out plenty of sonorous tones and dynamic variations leading up to soprano Michaela Cadwgan’s serene entry at Christe Eleison, her soaring lines confidently rising to meet the tessitura, as well as relishing the interactive moments with the choir.
A solo voice intoned the opening line of the “Gloria”, to which the choir burst out in response, everything festive and joyous, with the music quickly and adroitly switching moods between the opening joyfulness and the serenity of “Et in terra pax hominibus”. The following “Laudamus Te” sparkled both instrumentally and vocally, Michaela Cadwgan’s firm, focused singing putting one in mind in places of the vocal energies generated by the composer’s “Queen of the Night” arias from “The Magic Flute” without the latter character’s angst and malevolence, the “Glorificamus Te” sections being particularly florid.
A sudden dramatic shift at “Gratias agimus tibi” from the chorus became more fraught with the words “Propter magnam Gloriam Tuam”, this somewhat awe-struck reverence happily leavened by the music for the two sopranos at “Domine Deus”, Georgia Jamieson Emms and Michaela Cadwgan teaming up beautifully, and making a virtue of their different vocal timbres in the exchanges at “Agnus Dei”, thrilling us in places with their stratospheric note-swapping. The dotted Handelian rhythms of “Qui tollis peccata mundi” brought forth an amazingly incisive sound from both choir and orchestra, the rawness of the louring brass in places either (depending on one’s tastes as a listener!) overbearing or excitingly “present”, but dramatically telling in the contrast with the hushed pleas of “Miserere nobis” which followed, before building again towards further waves of cataclysmic energy! – what an amazing build-up of intensity was got here at “Qui sedes a dextram Patris!”, with by turns, haunting, then full-throated cries of “Miserere nobis!” – astonishing!
Both sopranos with tenor Jamie Young then made a remarkable trio of voices for the amazing “Quoniam Tu Solus Sanctus” the writing as florid as could be imagined, partly canonical, and partly fugal, the singers hanging onto the precarious solo lines with terrific elan! A great orchestral chord announced the words “Jesu Christe”, majestically delivered by the combined forces, before the men’s voices began a fugue with “Cum Sancto Spiritu”, spreading like wildfire and as excitingly through the voices before introducing the “Amens”, combining these with both fugue and inversion in a ferment of exhilaration before hurling the final “Amens” heavenwards with great surety and gusto!
The Credo, such as it was, began with a solo voice, answered by rumbustious orchestral figures over which the choir vigorously proclaimed the prayer’s basic tenets of faith and belief, breaking into decorative contrapuntal lines at the words “Ante omnia saecula “(before all time began), and giving the words rapid canonic treatment from men’s and women’s voices ( some briefly blurred lines here entirely forgiveable) from “Deum de Deo, Lumen de Lumine” (God from God, Light from Light), as far as Descendit de Caelis (Descended from Heaven), the voices suggesting similar trajectories.
This was followed by the heavenly “Et incarnatus est”, soft strings, organ and celestial winds introducing the soprano voice of Georgia Jamieson Emms, the voice here beautifully “floated”, negotiating both the high notes and the torturous coloratura which follows with great aplomb, and given sterling support by the various wind instruments. In fact her voice seemed to grow in surety and confidence as she approached the cadenza-like sequence again accompanied by the winds, both singer and players drawing on some kind of alchemic quality of loveliness throughout – a memorable performance!
There was little time to reflect on what we had been denied through the rest of the Credo’s absence – for here was the “Sanctus”, grand and imposing, with the brasses echoing the choir’s shouts, and a beautifully deep organ pedal accompanying the words “Domine Deus Sabaoth”, the atmosphere joyous and celebratory! Conversely, the fugal “Hosanna” was excitable and energetic, but with Thomas Nikora’s direction allowing the girth and “swagger” of the music to cone through, up to the great shouts of “In excelsis” at the end, though the strings continued, leading on to the “Benedictus”, featuring all four soloists for the first time, bass William King making his long-awaited entrance! All the soloists acquitted themselves beautifully, the individual voices resounding like church bells with their repeated “Benedictuses” and blended lines, all coping with some particularly demanding concerted writing towards the end with great credit, their final “In Nomine Domini” as vigorous and incisive as any of the evening’s utterances.
It remained for the choir to deliver the final moments of the Sanctus’s return, and the work’s journey was completed – well, actually, not quite, as we had been promised at the beginning that, to make up for the parts that the composer DIDN’T write, we would be given a kind of “bonus”, one that would “finish” the Mass in a more appropriately closing kind of manner. For this reason the work and the evening were both “rounded off” by another of Mozart’s works, the motet “Ave Verum Corpus” K.618, written in 1791 for a choirmaster friend in Baden, Anton Stoll, who had helped the Mozarts find lodgings in the town for Wolfgang’s wife Constanze, who was pregnant and needed the relief given by the local mineral springs.
Lasting only two-and-a-half minutes, this astonishing piece captures a tranquility that would have been entirely absent from Mozart’s life at that time – he was currently working on the opera “The Magic Flute”, and still to come that year (the year of his death) were the opera “La Clemenza di Tito” the Clarinet Concerto and the unfinished Requiem. Perhaps the inner peace of this work expressed an outward longing for the same, freed from the difficulties he was at that time embroiled with. Its performance here, one infused with light and warmth, made an entirely appropriate conclusion to a concert whose undertaking and execution Cantoris Choir and its Musical Director, Thomas Nikora, could be justly proud of.