What is religious music? Well, if there is singing and you
can hear the words "Requiem," "Kyrie, "Benedictus" and "Agnus Dei" and the
music sounds sort of religious, you can most likely draw an accurate conclusion. But if the work is
all orchestral and is cast in a modern idiom, it is rather difficult to tell
without a program. The nearly packed Circle Theatre had both examples in the
second ISO Friday classical program (repeated Saturday).
Mozart's Requiem in D Minor, K. 626
in D Minor, K. 626was his last major work (1791), which he didn't live to
complete, and is one of the more often presented in the species of large-scale
religious repertoire. British guest conductor Matthew Halls made his ISO debut
with the 55 minute Requiem, and
introduced it with Olivier Messiaen's 28-minute L'Ascension for Orchestra (1933). Let's start with the Messiaen.
Most famous for his organ writing and for his Quartet for the End of Time, Messiaen
recast his orchestral L'Ascension for
solo organ in 1934, and therein it found its greatest popularity. Yet the
not-often-played orchestral version--both of them dealing with the resurrected
Christ's ascension into Heaven--offers some unusual timbre variations which can
be enjoyed without any religious connotation.
For instance, its first of four sections, "Majesty of
Christ," is written for all brass and winds alone. But we couldn't hear the winds which
cannot compete with a bevy of trumpets, trombones and horns playing constantly
and loudly. The
second section, "Serene Hallelujahs," adds the strings, along with some bird
calls (which became popular to emulate in many early 20th century works).
L'Ascension's final section, "Prayer of Christ," is written
solely for strings. Throughout
the piece, Messiaen weaves his way through pastel harmonies blended with common
took solid command of this work, drawing the best possible playing from all the
orchestral choirs--which made it worth hearing.
Of course the Requiem
featured Eric Stark's Indianapolis Symphonic Choir -- and four vocal soloists:
soprano Yulia van Doren, alto Meg Bragle, tenor Lawrence Wilford and bass
Nathan Berg. Halls
chose his favored completion of the Requiem, that of Mozart's then current
pupil, Franz Xaver Süssmayr.
Stark used 170 voices for his choir, which occasionally
overpowered the soloists.
I had the feeling that Bragle may have had the best voice of the
four, but it was difficult to hear her in the clear.
From the "Requiem" through the "Kyrie," the "Sequence,"
including five sub-parts, the "Offertorium," the "Sanctus," "Benedictus," "Agnus
Dei" and finally the "Communion," we heard lofty music beautifully played and
sung. The only
section that Süssmayr definitely could not have written is the "Tuba Mirum" --
featuring principal trombonist James Beckel -- writing which looks briefly back
to the sublime style heard in Mozart's slightly earlier opera, The Magic Flute (also 1791).
Halls made a sufficiently good account of himself such as to
warrant his reengagement as soon as practicable. Oct. 10; Hilbert Circle Theatre