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Opinion: Rousing Early Mozart Concert

Tue, 07/09/2019 - 12:02

What a treat! On June 29, the Choral Society of the Hamptons joined forces with the South Fork Chamber Orchestra to perform some of Mozart’s lesser-known choral works, each a gem in its own right, composed before he was 24 years old. The ensemble, under the spirited direction of its music director, Mark Mangini, performed with top-notch professionalism and enthusiasm.

The rousing opening work, “Veni Sancte Spiritus,” KV 47, written when Mozart was all of 12 years old, was a splendid beginning to the spectacular concert. Known as the “Golden Sequence,” it is the sequence for the Mass for Pentecost. The original hymn has been attributed to three different authors, King Robert II, the Pious of France (970-1031), Pope Innocent III (1161-1216), and Stephen Langton (d. 1228), Archbishop of Canterbury, of which the last is the most likely author. Mozart’s version is much shorter, and is written for full classical orchestra, with brass and timpani adding brilliance.

The next piece, “Regina Coeli,” KV 276, is one of three settings Mozart composed for the Salzburg cathedral and certainly the most popular. Although only about seven minutes long, it is of large scale, appropriate for a grand festival liturgy. It is scored for a quartet of vocal soloists, chorus, and orchestra (including trumpets and timpani.) Mozart alternates between joyous declamatory choral sections and lyrical solos. Noteworthy was the solo quartet, Marcia Previti, Carol Balodis, Tom White, and Thomas P. Milton, each of whom is a longtime member of the Choral Society. Their voices blended with the chorus and also punctuated the text, particularly the dramatic rising sequence for the words “Resurrexit, sicut dixit,” “He rose again, as He said” — and as Maestro Mangini reminded us in the program notes.

The “Divertimento,” K. 138, in F major was written in 1772 when Mozart was 15 years old. The genre, prior to more formal categorization from 1780, was considered “diverting” in the sense of light outdoor or even background music for a social event. According to Mr. Mangini, it was written by Mozart after a visit to Italy and “captured the Italian spirit.” While the beauty of the composition remains clear, it was not particularly Italian.

One of the highlights of the evening, if not the highlight, were two arias by the soprano Chelsea Shephard: “Voi Avete un Cor Fedele,” K 217, and “Alma Grande e Nobil Cor,” K 578. She interpreted the demanding florid arpeggios with a purity and clarity worthy of the best. Not only does Ms. Shephard have a full operatic voice, which soared through the nave, but she is very expressive, pulling you into the meaning and deeper feelings of the music. 

In the first, my favorite, a conflicted woman sings about marrying a man who has proposed: “Will,” she asks, “his eyes start to wander after we marry?” We feel the draw and the hesitancy. In the second, she expresses anger over being scorned by a love interest.

These two pieces were written for operas in which the principal singers were not able to sing the arias as written. So composers would  write more suitable arias, which would then be slipped into the opera to accommodate the range of the performers. What is interesting is that these were two of the most beautiful and captivating pieces of the evening. They represent a manifestation of the opera buffa style, years before Mozart composed his Italian comic opera masterpieces. 

“Vesperae Solennes de Confessore,” K.339, (Solemn Vespers for a Confessor), is a sacred composition written in 1780. It was composed for liturgical use in the Salzburg Cathedral. The solo quartet, Hannah-Faye Huizing, Christine Cadarettte, Douglas Sabo, and Thomas Milton, blended seamlessly, while the soaring soprano of Ms. Shepard in the “Laudate Domino” offered us one of Mozart’s most familiar and sublime creations.

The last piece, the “Magnificat,” is a canticle, also known as “The Song of Mary,” “The Canticle of Mary,” and in the Byzantine tradition, “Ode of the Theotokos.” It is traditionally incorporated into services of the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Churches. It is one of the eight most ancient Christian and perhaps the earliest Marian hymn. Mozart’s version is for full orchestra, including trumpets and other brass instruments for a rousing ending.

After a standing ovation at the end of the program, the encore was "Ave Verum Corpus," a popular small piece that was directed and sung with sensitivity. It was one of three pieces written by Mozart after he moved to Vienna, and the only one of the evening written when he was older than 24.

Throughout the concert, Mr. Mangini had command of the chorus and the orchestra, and brought out the dynamics, while allowing both to blend and support each other. Congratulations to the Choral Society of the Hamptons, the South Fork Chamber Orchestra, Maestro Mangini, and all the performers. This was a well-thought-out program of great Mozart compositions, performed with brilliance and sensitivity.

This story has been updated to correct the names of the quartet who performed the "Regina Coeli" and the spelling of "Ave Verum Corpus."