Like some Catholics today who overlook Vatican decrees they find uncomfortable, Franz Schubert made his own personal choices when it came to setting to music the Latin text of the Mass, skipping over lines he didn't like for one reason or another.
This unorthodox approach is especially pronounced in his final and most ambitious Mass, the one in E-flat, which opened the Concert Artists of Baltimore's season Saturday evening. Gone are the beliefs in "one holy, catholic and apostolic church" and in resurrection. Even a couple of references to Jesus Christ are left out.
Too much can be made of all this, but the textual alterations provide a glimpse into Schubert's mind during the last year of his short life. He clearly intended this Mass for the concert hall, not a church service. And the way he emphasizes the chorus throughout suggests an attempt at a universal statement. It's as if the composer, so used to being alone in his personal life and in his art, felt the need to embrace the human family's age-old, multi-faith search for truths, for healing, for peace.
These, at any rate, were some of the thoughts prompted by the compelling performance of the Mass in E-flat led by conductor Edward Polochick at LeClerc Hall of the College of Notre Dame of Maryland. He kept the score taut and propulsive, tapping its dramatic undercurrent, but never at the expense of lyrical beauty.
The chorus of about 30 offered a smoothly blended sound and an intensity of expression that seemed to double the group's size. The singers who took part in the few solos for small vocal ensemble, especially the exquisite one for two tenors and soprano in the middle of the "Credo" movement, acquitted themselves admirably. Although things were hardly trouble-free in the orchestra - wiry violins, scrappy winds - a sense of deep involvement in the music offered sufficient compensation.
In its own way, Saint-Saens' Piano Concerto No. 2 is as unconventional as Schubert's Mass. Its three movements ignore standard expectations, and the curious progression of moods prompted a wag to note that the piece "begins as Bach and ends as Offenbach."
Inna Faliks, the 21-year-old winner of the 1999 Yale Gordon Concerto Competition at the Peabody Conservatory, attacked the first movement's stormy themes with considerable tonal weight and expressive flourish. But the scherzo and finale needed a more elfin touch - subtler dynamic shadings, scintillant phrasing, a keener sense of personality.
Polochick was a superb collaborator on the podium, making sure that ensemble and keyboard meshed effortlessly; the timing of the thunderous chords at the close of the first movement and the concerto's last mad-dash measures, for example, was razor-sharp. The orchestra still had some rough edges, but, for the most part, made a vibrant showing.