Orchestra, Choir perform with effort and energy
SYMPHONYORCHESTRA and concert choir
Featuring Mozart Requiem and Bach Cantata 118.
Directed by William Cutter.By Thomas Chen
The Mozart Requiem is the third "death mass" installment of the collaboration between the Symphony Orchestra and Concert Choir in the past three years. A key difference this year, however, was the absence of Music and Theater Arts Senior Lecturer John S. Oliver at the helm of the proceedings. This year, Music and Theater Arts Lecturer William C. Cutter led the MIT forces with soloists Margaret O'Keefe, music and theater arts lecturer; Susan Trout; Richard Simpson; and Paul Guttry. As a prelude to the Requiem, the program featured a short, unadvertised Cantata 118 by J.S. Bach. The performances of the Cantata and the Requiem were marked by high energy and big sound, unsurprising when one considers the tremendous size of the chorus.
The singing was sincere and purposeful, demonstrating the high standard to which the chorus was held under its previous director. The orchestra musicians also showed great enthusiasm through their vigorous playing, which was somewhat necessary to match the sound that comes from a large group of singers in a very oddly shaped music hall. Though the orchestral playing was not a paragon of accuracy and ensemble, its energy reminded me of the punchy recordings made by period orchestras in the early days of the "authentic performance" movement.
Despite this extroverted approach to Mozart's last work, the musicality of the phrasing from the chorus and the orchestra lacked shape much of the time. Since I last heard them perform together, their phrasing has become more cut-and-dry. Moreover, with so many bodies on stage and in the audience, the sound seemed to be sucked up before it could make it across the room.
The soloists accomplished their task stylishly and exhibited the highest musicianship of the evening. All four sang expressively and were deeply committed to breathing life into all the notes of the Requiem, even the ones not written by Mozart. Though each soloist was expert in executing his or her part, I found the combination of their voices somewhat bland; most undistinctive was the bass' contribution. Perhaps I am somewhat biased in that I do not find the solo parts particularly interesting compared to the solo parts in Mozart's wonderful C-minor Mass.
In the end, I could not bring myself to become excited over what turned out to be a well-received performance. Looking back on the evening, I would have to say that I enjoyed the Bach Cantata more than the Mozart Requiem, though I probably enjoyed it more for its novelty than for the musicianship. Given the size of the audience, the concert was in all likelihood sold out and was a testament to the popularity of the Requiem. I was indeed surprised when I had to wait 10 minutes to enter the hall. But for those who enjoy Peter Schaffer's use of the Requiem in his famous movie script, the performance by the MIT Symphony Orchestra and Concert Choir certainly reflected that kind of dramatic energy.