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April 10, 2006

Choir honors Mozart sans his music

Kansas City Star (KS):

The boy Mozart was an intellectual and musical sponge who soaked up everything he heard, especially at his home church in Salzburg, Austria, and in his travels as a wunderkind. But just what was he soaking up during those formative years? The Tallis Scholars, a 10-voice British unaccompanied vocal ensemble conducted by Peter Phillips, decided to mark Mozart’s 250th birthday not with another all-Mozart concert but with a program that looked at the composer’s sources.

“Mozart’s Roots: A Cappella Music in Germany” on Friday at Redemptorist Church was one of the most memorable concerts of the Friends of Chamber Music’s season. When it came to marrying words and music, composers of the Renaissance and Baroque reigned, and Germans like Praetorius and Schuetz were as gifted at it as their Italian and French counterparts, if perhaps less extravagant about it. This is a more subtle art than just singing high for “He ascended into heaven.” These are tiny variations of tone and texture that require rapt attention.

In Praetorius’ “Videns Dominus,” the words “Jesus wept” were sung with suave sadness, while “Lazarus, come forth!” was a series of steady, emphatic chords. In the second of two Praetorius Magnificats, the word “dispersit” (scattered) was a gentle series of zigzags. And in his “O Bone Jesu,” the idea that the self cannot reach God alone was a series of little duets, as if the self was being accompanied on its journey. The two Magnificats highlighted the program’s first half. The Tallis’ sonority throughout these two shimmering Magnificats was at once sinewy and creamy smooth.

Founded in 1973, this group is made up of a variety of vocal types, and in drier acoustics they can sound exposed. The larger-than-life resonance of massive Redemptorist Church was ideal for them, and despite the signature soprano-heavy sound, they were as luminous here as I’ve heard them.

The second half began with three breathtaking works by Schuetz. “Die Mit Traenen Saeen” juxtaposed tragic dissonances with Baroque vigor. “Blessed are the dead ... They rest from their labors,” was sung to restful music pierced through with almost tragic sadness. The double-choir “German Magnificat” was like its own universe, with antiphonal echoes, delicate cries and aggressive repetitions. It made such a vivid impression that the finale, Bach’s “Komm, Jesu, Komm,” sounded oddly muddy and subdued.

Posted by acapnews at April 10, 2006 9:53 PM