Kirsch, Chorus Pro Musica at their peak in an impressive “Missa Solemnis”

November 5, 2016 at 11:32 am

By Aaron Keebaugh

Jamie Kirsch led Chorus Pro Musica Saturday night at Sanders Theater. Photo: Santa Mila

Jamie Kirsch conducted Chorus Pro Musica in Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis” Friday night at Jordan Hall. Photo: Santa Mila

Beethoven was not a regular churchgoer but he held deep religious beliefs. Though born a Catholic, his faith took on a pantheistic strain as he aged, and his deafness only deepened those beliefs. God, it seemed, was everywhere and his presence was best expressed in music.

The Missa Solemnis, written over five years and premiered in 1824, is both a personal and traditional reflection of the composer’s spirituality, recalling and building upon the choral masterpieces by Bach, Handel, and Mozart.

Beethoven’s mass made an affecting season opener Friday night at Jordan Hall, where Jamie Kirsch led Chorus pro Musica and a fine lineup of soloists in a spirit-filled performance.

Performing Missa Solemnis is quite a feat for any chorus. The vocal writing is laced with knotty fugues and dotted with high notes that stretch the human voice beyond its comfortable limitations. The hundred-plus members of Chorus pro Musica handled these challenges superbly, singing with bright, radiant tone in the work’s fuller sections and soft elegance in the softer passages. The opening “Kyrie” was particularly powerful and the lines of the “Credo’s” fugue on “et vitam venturi” seemed to spin in all directions. The choir performed them with fine control and musicality.

There were a few moments of imprecision. The “Osanna in excelsis” lacked definition in its early phrases, though the singers’ confidence and articulation grew stronger as the piece progressed. The sparse chord that lands on the phrase “et mortuos” in the “Credo” was out of tune, the singers searching for the pitches. 

Elsewhere, though, the chorus sang with a firm sense of Beethoven’s dramatic style. The “miserere nobis” of the “Gloria” was agonizing in its emotional depths, and the soft cadences in “Quoniam tu solus sanctus” evaporated in a soft glow of sound. The concluding “Amen” was sung with boisterous energy.

The soloists were consistently excellent. Nola Richardson sang with a bright soprano that complemented Kate Maroney’s burnished mezzo-soprano. Tenor Dann Coakwell supplied a warm, supple voice to his brief solo spotlights. David McFerrin has a bass voice that rang with a delicate radiance well suited to the mournful lines of the “Agnus Dei.”

Together, the singers delivered a velvety blend. The “Crucifixus” sounded with dark vitality while the “passus et sepultus est,” which tells of Christ’s death and burial, was poignant. The ensuing “Et Resurrexit,” sung by the chorus, erupted like light in a dark cave. 

Jamie Kirsch is a fine conductor with the capacity to shape the vocal and instrumental lines of the score. Dynamics were well placed, tempos led with crispness, and balances well proportioned.

The orchestra was strong in all sections and the musicians supplied the deep emotional threads that run through every page of the score. The most beautiful music came in the “Sanctus,” which unfolded in long, golden phrases. The violin solo in the “Benedictus,” played by concertmaster Annie Rabbat, was melting in its intimacy.

Chorus pro Musica will perform a Christmas program 8 p.m. December 16 at Old South Church.


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