Interpretive Touches Enhance Mozart's Requiem

Singers From Academy, Goucher Perform Admirably

April 12, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

This is quite an opportune time to savor the Requiem of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

In music circles, 1991 has been given over to bicentennial tributes to Mozart, the supernova from Salzburg, who died in December 1791, one month shy of his 36th birthday.

Commissioned under bizarre circumstances by Count Walsegg, a rapscallion who would later attempt to pass the work off as his own, the Requiem lay unfinished on Mozart's deathbed.

Convinced all along that he would not live to complete his musical epitaph, the composer left sketches of the work's later portions, which were turned over to his student Franz Xaver Sussmayr by Constanze Mozart following her husband's death.

Musicologists still debate the "Is it Mozart, or isit Sussmayr?" question with great gusto, but the bottom line is thatthere are many, many extraordinary moments in the Requiem that positively scream "Mozart" and make it required listening in this or any other year.

Last Sunday, the U.S. Naval Academy Glee Clubs along with the Goucher College Chorus and members of the Annapolis Symphony presented the Mozart Requiem at the Academy Chapel in the institution's 18th annual Spring Oratorio Concert. Under the direction of John Barry Talley, these forces presented an alert, vigorous, often powerful Requiem that deserved the large audience in attendance.

While this was hardly a "stop and smell the roses" Requiem, there were some interpretive touches from Talley that made things interesting as well as exciting.

An ingeniously placed "Luftpause" in the "Rex tremendae" proved delightful. And I've never heard the "Lacrymosa" end in a decrescendo extending through the concluding "Amen" before. Usually, the line builds to a crescendo on the final "Amen," but the conductorseemed intent on highlighting the gentleness of the text through theentire musical sequence. It was beautiful.

For the most part, Talley's singers acquited themselves admirably. The dotted rhythms at "Qui Salvandos" in the "Rex tremendae" were crisp and spirited, and thehushed passage leading into the "Kyrie" double fugue was admirable indeed. The singers sounded particularly strong in the "Sanctus," and their "Agnus Dei" glowed with warmth.

There were some troublesome entrances (at "Exaudi orationem" in the "Introit," for example) but the Mids and their guests did themselves proud.

One might have wished for more relaxation in some of the work's more transcendent moments.

The "Voca me" in the "Confutatis" came on matter-of-factly and there was but a hint of those gentle but wrenching suspensions at "Oro supplex."

Let me also commit heresy by saying that I look forward to the day when I can hear a Glee Club Oratorio concert outside theacoustical confines of the Naval Academy Chapel. It's a gorgeous setting, but it tends to reduce choral sound to mush. At Sunday's concert, a great deal of articulate energy wafted up to the dome and stayedthere.

Perhaps a sharper sound will be possible over at the new Alumni Hall facility on the Naval Academy campus. (Assuming the naval jock-ocracy allows the arts to coexist with sports in the new structure, that is.) In any event, chapel sonics did Herr Mozart's cause no good whatsoever.

Talley chose four exemplary soloists, and the playing by members of the Annapolis Symphony was of high quality. I've never heard the ASO trumpet section sound anything but perfunctory. I hope Sunday's concert started a new trend; they were marvelous.

The performance began with Domenico Cimarosa's Oboe Concerto, featuringASO principal oboist James Dale as soloist. Dale played very well, though things sounded under-rehearsed and tentative in the orchestra.

But what a glorious piece this concerto is.

Cimarosa succeeded Antonio Salieri (of "Amadeus" infamy) as composer at the Austrian Imperial Court.

His oboe concerto, transcribed from a keyboard piece,reveals a composer of considerable talent with a deft melodic touch.

And Salieri was hardly the hack "Amadeus" makes his out to be. I mean, he was Beethoven's teacher, after all.

Let history record: Leopold II didn't hire bums.

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