WORCESTER — A Celebration of Classical Masters was the theme of the concert presented by the Salisbury Singers on Sunday in Blessed Sacrament Church. Liturgical music of Michael Haydn, Schubert and Mozart comprised the program.
Accompaniment was provided by a small string ensemble, with four excellent soloists.
Though not as well-known as his famous brother, Michael Haydn was a prolific composer with hundreds of compositions to his name. His setting of the gradual, “Petite et Accipietis” (“Ask and You shall Receive”) was the first number on the program, conducted by John Schnelle, assistant conductor of the Salisbury Singers. The chorus gave a precise and professional rendition of this seldom heard piece.
The most important work on the program was the Mass in G by Franz Schubert. Though it is an early work of Schubert’s, it has many Romantic qualities such as dramatic use of dynamics and soaring melodic lines. These were delivered beautifully by the chorus, and the intensity of the forte passages was particularly thrilling. Though the Mass is basically homophonic in character, the short bursts of polyphony were very clearly and precisely sung. The three soloists in the Schubert Mass were Jean Danton, soprano, Eric Christopher Perry, tenor, and Kyle Siddons, baritone; and all performed admirably, especially in their beautifully realized and affecting reading of the Benedictus.
After the Schubert, there was a brief pause in the performance so that an award could be presented to UniBank, longtime supporter and the day’s sponsor of this Salisbury Singers Concert.
Archbishop Colloredo of Salzburg, enthroned during Mozart’s time, expected a Mass to last no longer than 45 minutes, so Mozart was somewhat time-constrained in these works. He wrote seven or eight Missae Breves, the one in F major being the final piece on the program. This Mass is also homophonic for the most part, though there are a few polyphonic passages, many of which were not completely realized by Mozart. The choral tone was rich, focused and well-supported, and the string ensemble executed its small parts admirably. The lovely mezzo-soprano Eileen Christiansen joined the other three excellent soloists to complete the quartet needed in this short Mass.
Though this was a lovely little concert, one can’t help but wonder why two Masses were programmed, particularly two such similar ones. Replacing one of the Masses with a magnificat, Te Deum or some motets would have added some diversity to a program showcasing Classical Masters while still retaining the liturgical theme.
The Salisbury Singers, joined by the Mastersingers of Worcester, will be presenting another Mass, this one by 20th-century Belgian composer Joseph Jongen June 5 in St. Paul’s Cathedral.