Review: Oratorio Chorale's Mozart and Schubert

Posted Wednesday, November 21, 2012 in Culture

Review: Oratorio Chorale's Mozart and Schubert

Peter Frewen, conductor of Oratorio Chorale.

reviewed by Gina Hamilton

TOPSHAM -- The Oratorio Chorale, together with the Maine Chamber Ensemble, presented its first work of its 39th season, with religious choral music by Mozart and Schubert, and Mozart's well-known, charming serenade for string ensemble, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik on Saturday night, November 17, at the Orion Performing Arts Center. The program was repeated on Sunday afternoon at Sacred Heart Church in Yarmouth.

The Sancta Maria, Misericordias Domini, and Ave Verum Corpus, which led the program, were three short sacred works written at different times in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's short life.  Mozart was in his late teens and early 20s when he wrote the first two pieces, and they are youthful and vital, as well as technically proficient.  The Chorale ably performed these pieces, especially the Misericordias, which was demanded as a test of Mozart's skill with the late Baroque contrapunctus style, a style which even in Mozart's day was dated.  The final piece of the series, the Ave Verum Corpus, was one of two religious works written during Mozart's final year of life, at the age of 35.  The other was his expansive Requiem.  The style is very different, darker, moodier, and almost threatening, but more technically perfect than the earlier pieces.

Eine Kleine Nachtmusik is a light serenade in G.  It is perhaps one of the best known Mozart works.  It was played beautifully by the ensemble; however, for this reviewer and her companion, it has been utterly ruined by having heard a PDQ Bach (Peter Schickele) version of this piece, which Schickele called 'Eine Kleine Nichtmusik' in which many pieces are referenced throughout the four movements in counterpoint.  Everything from Bach to Stravinski, from Beethoven to Stephen Foster (and many other, ruder pieces besides) appear in the adulterated version.  (For those who would like to hear this piece, I am including a link to a YouTube version: Eine Kleine Nichtmusik) My apologies to Maestro Peter Frewen and the Chamber Ensemble if we had difficulty focusing on their able work.

We had recovered sufficiently by the second half of the program to appreciate the Mass in E-flat major by Franz Schubert.  Schubert wrote several masses throughout his short life, and this piece was written shortly before his death at the age of 31.  Performed with orchestra, the instrumentation and the choir traded center stage from movement to movement. 

Choir members took the role of soloists as needed.  Seven members altogether sang the solo pieces.  It was a pleasure to see the choir take on this role, and their voices could be heard cleanly above both the choir and the orchestra.

The depth of this final Schubert mass is more intense than his earlier works, such as the gentle Mass in G, written when Schubert was in his teens. 

The pieces worked well together as a program, and demonstrated a dedication to the Chorale's choral roots.  We look forward to the next program, Dvorak and Britten, which will be held on March 9 and 10.

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