Early Music Festival
Indiana History Center
July 22 and 23
The place was packed, the concert completely sold out. For the Festival Music Society, this was a first in the two seasons at their present Indiana History Center venue. I can only ascribe it to the program offered — not the performers. And the latter were rewarded at both the break and the end with standing, thundering, extended applause. So what was the program? Who played and what did they offer to entice such ticket sales and such response?
By common consent, the two most ambitious, most rewarding musical settings of the Catholic Mass to come down to us are Bach’s Mass in B Minor, BWV 232 (1733, 1749) and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in D, Op. 123 (1823). Both lasting well over an hour, neither seem especially fit for liturgical use; they are, in effect, universal concert works which can be savored by the pious and skeptical alike solely for their musical values.
Of the many B Minor Masses presented locally over the years, last Sunday’s presentation by the New York State Baroque Chorus, the final concert of this summer’s FMS early music series, probably employed the smallest forces the work’s ever seen here. Eight voices comprised the choir — one voice for each part — along with 16 instrumentalists, making the group’s title a slight misnomer.
Bach’s setting of the Ordinary takes nearly two hours to bring off, the first hour of which is comprised only of the “Kyrie” and “Gloria” — written some 15 years before the “Credo,” Sanctus” and “Agnus dei.” The New Yorkers’ generally excellent singing and playing displayed both the intricacy and intimacy of Bach’s conception — in a way larger forces can’t. Occasional rough spots showed only the daunting difficulty of their task, as in the use of a valveless horn in the “Quonium tu solus sanctus.”
As FMS musical director for 34 years, Frank Cooper (who started his career at Butler University), citing age and his burden of U of Miami activities, delivered the last of his celebrated Sunday afternoon FMS lectures. He will return from Florida as usual next season as musical director — just no lectures. We’ll miss them.
Saturday’s program (the IHC venue was booked on the usual Friday) began the early music weekend with the Albuquerque Baroque Players in a program featuring Baroque music from France and Italy. Consisting of four women — all residents of New Mexico — the group played (and discussed) the French music of François Couperin (1668-1733) and Marin Marais (1656-1728) and the Italian style of Antonio Vivaldi (1678-1741) and Arcangelo Corelli (1653-1713). Among these composers, the Italians always win, and these selections were no exception. Especially dreary was Marais’ Suite in E Minor, from Pièces en trio, its seven dance numbers failing to deviate enough from its tonic key to provide any harmonic interest. However, Corelli’s ensuing Trio Sonata in D, Op. 4 No. 4 proved a delight from start to finish.
Lacking cohesive ensemble work and presenting a few pitch problems, this Southwest combo was not among the better groups engaged by the FMS. The Baltimore Consort, heard two weekends earlier, gets the nod as the best performing group in this season’s Early Music Festival, while the B Minor Mass gets top honors for what was performed.