'Harmoniemesse' fills St. Mary's sanctuary

December 11, 1997|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Arundel Vocal Arts Society and Orchestra filled the sanctuary of St. Mary's Catholic Church in Annapolis on Saturday with a beautiful rendition of Haydn's Mass in B flat major, the "Harmoniemesse," and a collection of Christmas carols.

This remarkable, 49-voice choir, augmented by a 14-piece orchestra and four soloists, gave us more than a concert; it was music that gladdened the heart and touched the soul.

As the choir moved down the center aisle singing "How Great Our Joy," we could hear each lovely voice at close range. Dressed in traditional black and white, choir members created a lovely tableau filling the cream marble altar at St. Mary's.

Haydn's last major work, completed at age 70, the Harmony Mass is seldom performed, so it is not as well-known as it should be.

The entire Mass is never dull, filled with music of sharp contrast with harmonic color and surprising key changes. Each of the six sections of the Harmony Mass contains music of beauty and exultation as well as great depth and power.

Each group -- chorus, soloists and orchestra -- contributes its distinctive element, which blends into a beautiful whole.

In the Benedictus, we heard voices that approached an orchestral fullness. The soloists, all skilled musicians, were equal to the challenge of parts of many trills and embellishments sung in counterpoint to the chorus.

Vicki Estep's rich, creamy soprano was lovely in an exultant and reverent performance, despite (I learned later) a lingering cold. Mezzo-soprano Pat Boyd has a rich, lustrous voice that was well displayed in the quartet in the Agnus Dei. G. Stephen Stokes was equally effective with his warm lyric tenor. Baritone Reginald Allen has a resonant, mellow voice.

The hard quality of the cathedral acoustics enhanced the voices and orchestra. The reflective brilliance added resonance to the total sound. St. Mary's was a setting of aural and visual appeal, with its marble altar adorned with angels, saints and the Virgin Mary above.

The Mass was followed by a selection of familiar and not so well-known Christmas carols. From contemporary composer John Rutter, we heard "Christmas Lullaby" and "What Sweeter Music." A blending of "The First Noel" and "It Came Upon a Midnight Clear" was particularly effective.

Donald K. Smith accompanied the choir with sensitivity on the electric piano.

The latter part of the program was lovely in its simplicity, reverence and joy. J. S. Bach's "Alleluia Fugue" was especially moving with its repeated exultation of Mary, whose prayerful representation is in a niche above the altar.

Pub Date: 12/11/97

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