Anyone who has ever worked in church music knows the struggle—trying to sing good repertoire with limited rehearsal time, sometimes with only a week’s notice—but, in a concert setting, such pressure usually does not exist. On Sunday night, however, the singers in ChoralFest 2016, under the direction of Sara McClure, performed Requiem by John Rutter after rehearsing together for just a week, and the result was undeniably successful.
Requiem, a musical setting of the Roman Catholic mass for the dead, features Latin movements from the traditional mass, such as “Requiem aeternam” and “Agnus Dei,” interspersed with two English psalm settings, “Out of the deep” and “The Lord is my shepherd.” Although the piece is not lengthy, it does require the singers to develop a musical sense that will support the phrases and lend continuity to the seven-movement work; the choir indeed communicated a strong idea of musical line, and, as a result, the mood and intent of the text were clear. The singers also succeeded in achieving a good choral blend, in which important parts rose from and sank back into the texture when needed but, in more homophonic sections, the harmonies were full and balanced. The rich tone of soloist Lauren Stafford, featured in “Pie Jesu” and “Lux aeterna,” complemented this excellent choral sound.
Scored for flute, oboe, cello, harp, percussion, and organ, Requiem leaves little room for error, as the instrumentation is sparse enough that the parts are relatively exposed. This orchestra was a splendid partner to the choir for the entirety of the Rutter; cellist Ezgi Karakus had some particularly nice solo opportunities, as did oboist Kathryn Woolsey. Percussionist Donna Bohn was the unsung hero of the ensemble, never getting a chance to play extended solos but playing a crucial role in the music, such as the rhythmic drive provided by the steady, doleful timpani beats during the “Agnus Dei.”
Organ music, played by Jessica Koebbe, preceded and followed the Rutter, and, while her playing was good, the audience’s behavior was appalling. Whether in church or concert, a prelude is supposed to set the mood of the next hour or so, but there was a great deal of audience chatter as the prelude began—and people shamelessly kept on conversing, even as others were trying to listen. Perhaps this reviewer is sensitive to the matter because he is a church musician, but, if a prelude is going to work in a concert, especially if concertgoers are unfamiliar with its role, perhaps the program should clearly denote that it is to be enjoyed in silence. Behavior during the postlude was not much better—and, certainly, the unceremonious moving of the harp from the sanctuary, in full view of the audience, did not help matters—but at least people seemed to be in more of a mood to appreciate the music. As far as this reviewer is concerned, if it is on the program, it is part of the concert, and those in attendance should treat it as such, especially with such a fine offering of the Rutter Requiem as was given on Sunday night.
Sunday, August 14 at 7:30 p.m.
Lutheran Church of the Resurrection
9100 Mission Road, Leawood, KS
For more information visit www.midwestchamberensemble.org