Hitting the high notes of Mozart's life

Annapolis Chorale, Chamber Orchestra celebrate composer's 250th birthday

MUSIC Review

March 10, 2006|By MARY JOHNSON | MARY JOHNSON,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Mozart's 250th birthday celebration continued with verve last weekend as the Annapolis Chorale and Annapolis Chamber Orchestra ran the gamut from symphony to opera to ballet to choral work in an evening that spanned Mozart's career.

The program, led by the Annapolis Chorale's J. Ernest Green, started with Mozart's Symphony No. 1, composed at age 8, and than covered an opera, The Impresario, from his late-middle career; a ballet excerpt from The Marriage of Figaro from the same period; and Requiem, his final work.

A program of this magnitude requires artists of versatility, perhaps demanding most from orchestra members. The Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, in particular, displayed enormous flexibility in the concert.

The program opened with Mozart's Symphony in E flat, No. 1 - a work of some substance in the middle movement. It was played sensitively by the musicians taking their lead from Green.

Green said afterward that he wanted "to lighten up with Wolfie in the first part of the program" to balance Requiem, which was to follow the intermission.

The Impresario was given a sparkling new treatment by Green, who supplied the updated, abbreviated and very funny script and directed all aspects of the performance. Green took an opera that is seldom heard and brought it to modern life, making it accessible and fun.

The story tells of the rivalry between two demanding divas who cause problems for the producer dealing with them. Green inserted such jokes as having the two sopranos sing a bit from Marriage of Figaro ("Porgi Amor" and "Deh vieni non tardar"), prompting the Impresario to exclaim: "Enough Mozart already!"

In Green's version, the opera is fresh and shows how timeless Mozart is. In this miniature opera, all cast members sang well.

Jill Woodward played the diva past her prime, and Shaina Vatz played the younger soprano vying for the lead. As the wealthy patron Mr. Angel, tenor Andre Bierman showed a talent for comedy, as did bass Larry Beale Small as the Impresario. Jason Buckwalter acted well in the role of Stage Manager Buff.

A group of dancers from Ballet Theatre of Maryland re-created their delightful version of Marriage of Figaro, proving adept at creating an enchanting dance within a confined stage space. Again the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra shone with Spirited, sensitive playing.

After intermission, the major work of the program was performed with great power, emotion and energy. When Mozart died Dec. 5, 1791, without completing the work, his widow Constanze asked Mozart's student Franz Sussmayr to finish the work. Sussmayr's was the version Green chose as the most authentic.

Richly colored, varied in texture and intensity, the Annapolis Chorale conveyed the gravity of this work that confronts death.

At the opening notes of the "Introitus," with its dramatic "Grant them eternal rest, O Lord," the sound of the full chorus and the accompanying Annapolis Chamber Orchestra was magnificent. A sublime "Kyrie" was followed by a dramatic "Dies Irae" portraying the day of wrath. The contrast of the damned condemned to flames with the moving prayer in supplication was fully realized in the "Confutatis."

The dark coloring of the male voices in counterpoint to the orchestra's brisk playing lent intensity. The sublime beauty of the "Lacrimosa" was followed by the "Offertorium." The work returns to Mozart's fugue for the closing, with the ending repeating Mozart's earlier "Introitus" and "Kyrie."

Throughout this work the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra intensified the drama and sensitively supported the chorus and soloists. The four soloists - soprano Laurie Hays, mezzo Jenni Lynn Bank, tenor Andre Bierman and bass Larry Beale Small - added distinction to this memorable performance.

Once again Green and the Annapolis Chorale and Chamber Orchestra proved up to every facet of a challenging program.

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