St. Mary's Unveils Lost Muffat Mass

March 01, 1992|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

The St. Mary's College music department seems to have a thing for composers from Salzburg, Austria, whose names begin with "M."

Last year in Annapolis, there was a delightful evening of Mozart, commemorating the bicentennial of the death of Salzburg's most talented son.

This year, the St. Mary's College Choir, The Tidewater Ensemble and eight soloists came to venerable St. Anne's Church in Annapolis togive the U.S. premiere of "Missa in labore requires" (Mass in the time of rest) of Georg Muffat.

Born in France a little more than a century before Mozart, Muffat (1653-1704) studied under Jean Baptiste Lully and Arcangelo Corelli, two 17th-century composers of note, before moving on to Salzburg, where he put in soe time as an organist andchamber musician for the local archbishop.

Muffat's instrumental music occasionally sees the light of day, but his choral music has all but disappeared. The "Missa in labore requires," only recently proven to be the work of the composer, was given its modern premiere at the Salzburg Festival in 1990 and was presented in America for the first time Thursday evening at St. Anne's by the forces from St. Mary's.

No one is ever going to mistake Muffat's composition for the Mozart C Minor Mass, but it is a solid, workmanlike piece that deserved to be unearthed. Muffat was clearly looking back at the Renaissance inthe solid block chords of the opening fanfare, which come directly from Monteverdi's 1610 "Vespers," but there are also many nifty polyphonic wrinkles that hint strongly at the contrapuntal forces Bach would unleash a few decades down the road.

Ultimately, I doubt if there is enough harmonic or melodic content to sustain a full-length concert performance of the Muffat Mass, but it certainly has its moments.There is a lovely "Laudamus te" soprano duet and some very interesting underlying harmony in "Domine deus rex coelestis," for example. And this has to be the perkiest "Et incarnatus est" I can think of. No mystical intensity here; it's positively jaunty.

For the most part, Muffat's Mass received a pleasant performance. The St. Mary's choristers were well prepared and contributed enthusiastically.

The Tidewater ensemble is a responsive orchestra and able soloists were engaged for the occasion, with the exception of a pair of blah tenors whomerely went through the motions of singing their parts.

ConductorLarry Vote kept the concert running smoothly most of the way. There were near derailments at "Per quem omnia" and "Et in unum" in the Credo, but things generally went well indeed.

This is difficult, lengthy and unfamiliar music, but the St. Mary's musicians made a strong case for its hearing. Good for them.

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