Chorus Pro Musica presented an auspicious season opener on Sunday, November 8 at Old South Church. It was Betsy Burleigh’s first concert as new music director, and she chose a program that highlighted the church’s “new” organ, Aeolian-Skinner’s large Op. 308, which was silenced last year because of the MBTA’s nearby construction. The program was the Maurice Duruflé Requiem in its original organ accompaniment version, Johannes Brahms’ organ obbligato motet “Lass dich nur nichts nicht dauren,” and Zoltán Kodály’s “Laudes Organi,” a late work that this reviewer had never heard before.
The Duruflé Requiem was well served by mezzo-soprano Laurie Szablewski, baritone Marc DeMille, cellist Nora Karakousglou, and especially organist Ross Wood, who excels in how to use an orchestral organ like this. Duruflé’s flowing organ music in the Introit set the tone for this consoling requiem, which only refers to “Dies Irae” incidentally in the “Libera me” section. The “Introit” splendidly demonstrated the full sound of the ensemble and organ, leading without pause to the more intimate “Kyrie.”
The “Domine Jesu Christe” featured the solo baritone, who achieved a magical effect on the words “to pass from death unto life.” Like the Fauré Requiem, Duruflé gives the “Pié Jesu” to the soprano soloist. The cello adds to the prevailing beseeching character. Perfectly conveying the everlasting light in the “Lux aeterna” section, Dr. Wood chose a gentle reed stop, then countered with a loud reed stop to deliver the terrors of “Libera Me,” which, like the Fauré, includes a baritone solo, although to a lesser extent.
The early Brahms motet was given a stellar performance. Composed in double counterpoint at the ninth below, the piece is one of Brahms’s early successes, although he was typically hard on himself, complaining to Joachim that only the “Amen” pleased him. And for that, Brahms abandoned the counterpoint! The text, by the 17th-century Paul Fleming, concerns itself with consolation, like Duruflé’s setting of the requiem.
Commissioned by the American Guild of Organists in 1966, “Laudes Organi” (in praise of the organ), is Kodály’s last major work. Was this its first Boston performance? As his other organ music demonstrates, Kodály is an effective organ composer. This piece opens with an extended organ solo answered by the chorus expressing appreciation for what has been heard, then cautions us to be militant to practice and keep the bellows in order. Continuing in this playful mood — even Guido d’Arezzo, early inventor of musical notation, makes an appearance — the piece ends with a glorious “Amen” fugue.
Dr. Burleigh wants to return this venerable chorus to its “roots.” Was it always so abundant in the treble department?
There is a related article here.