IN: Reviews

Spectrum Singers Long in Intensity


John Ehrlich 40 years ago

The Spectrum Singers, under John Ehrlich with soprano Sarah Yanovitch Vitale, mezzo-soprano Katherine Maysek, tenor Charles Blandy and bass Mark Andrew Cleveland performed Mozart’s Dominican Vespers K. 321 and his Mass in C (“Coronation”) K. 317 at First Congregational Church last Saturday.  The two date from Mozart’s second period of employment in the Archdiocese of Salzburg during which Mozart answered to the Archbishop Colloredo, an Enlightenment figure who simplified and shortened church services. The musical part of the service was to be no more than 45 minutes and had to be “simple” which meant minimal counterpoint, few florid solos, and small groups of instruments. Mozart chafed under these requirements but did not fail to produce masterpieces.

The singers, with accompanying orchestra, delivered a rich and varied, yet unified sound due to a balanced blend of voice parts.  The text came across well and the group’s enthusiasm and attentiveness to their conductor delivered a pleasing presence. Founding director Ehrlich, now in his 43rd year with the ensemble, has molded Spectrum into one of Boston’s outstanding choruses. 

The opening Dixit Dominus of K 321 employing full chorus and orchestra, made clear that the evening would be one of energy and joy. The chorus followed a brisk pace in the Dixit, coming to a dramatic fermata at m. 28 (“He―the Lord—will shatter the heads of many in the land”). The conclusion paid full glory to the Father via overlapping melodies in the chorus while the orchestra outlined chords and scales that reinforced the key of C and underpinned the forward motion. Soprano Yanovitch Vitale delivered the opening solo of the Confitebor with richness and emotion. The movement, dedicated to the glories of God, is a dialogue, with the soloists providing the necessary floridness while the subdued reverence of the chorus reinforced the message. The third movement, Beatus Vir again featured lively conversation between soloists and chorus. The violins, with exact phrasing and rhythmic precision, punctuated the forward motion via rising arpeggios on the dominant and falling sixteenth notes. Laudate pueri opens with the vocal sections in canonic imitation. The slower, more expressive pace allowed the chorus to showcase its lyrical side and provided contrast with the drama that had come before. Nonetheless, the unified chorus declaimed key moments of text. Yanovitch Vitale sang the Laudate Dominum, a concert aria for soprano solo with agility and ease. Peter Sykes played the understated yet charming organ accompaniment, which at times echoed the melodic material, and at others provided harmonic support. 

The assembled forces met the opening dynamic challenge, forte, then piano on one word, of the Magnificat, with conviction. Mezzo Katherine Maysek conveyed a rich warmth in the only instance in which the first solo was assigned to the alto line. The Gloria was introduced by a quartet of soloists, who projected a balanced and joyous sound.  Mozart signals the end of the piece with repeated assertions of the tonic.  Brass, timpani and organ underpin the bustling strings as the chorus and orchestra bring the Vespers to their final, affirmative “Amen”.

The Kyrie of K. 317 opens on a C major chord and as in the preceding Magnificat, the chorus executed rapid dynamic changes with ease. The heroism of the first five measures yields to a lyrical tenor/soprano duet, sung with confidence by Yanovitch Vitale and Blandy. The chorus returns to the opening gesture and ends the piece on a Kyrie of hushed reverence. Rhythmic drive, punctuated by prominent timpani, characterizes the Gloria. At the first unison mention of Jesus, an all-encompassing hush took over, only to be relieved by the abandon with which the singers catapulted to the closing amens. A similar rhythmic vitality pervades the Credo, punctuated by the dark, introspective description of the Crucifixion.

In the Sanctus the majesty of the opening Kyrie returns. The singers’ energy did not flag through the Hosannas which followed. These alternated with the charming Benedictus, a quartet of soloists. The poignant soprano solo Agnus Dei reminded us of man’s indebtedness to the Lord. The closing Donna Nobis Pacem (grant us peace) is taken up in a new tempo as all forces hurdle to a joyful end.

In his introductory remarks, chorus Spectrum President Daniel Epstein had warned the audience that although the program was short in duration, it was long in intensity. An encore should not be expected, because the chorus would be exhausted. The appreciative audience allowed Mozart’s sacred music to have the last word.

Retired medical biology researcher Dinah Bodkin is a serious amateur pianist and mother of Groupmuse founder Sam Bodkin.

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