Mostly Mozart in New York – Rachmaninov & Fauré

Rachmaninov
Liturgy of St John Chrysostom, Op.31 [Excerpts]
Fauré
Requiem, Op.48 [1893 Version]

Sophie Karthäuser (soprano)
Dietrich Henschel (baritone)

Swedish Radio Choir

Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra
Kaspars Putniņš [Rachmaninov]
Louis Langrée


Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski

Reviewed: 8 August, 2007
Venue: Avery Fisher Hall, New York City

“Mostly Mozart” at Lincoln Center is now in its 41st year. While continuing to celebrate its namesake composer, the Festival has expanded in some new and welcome directions. This summer the month-long festival, which opened on July 31, is focusing on three intersecting musical themes: Beethoven, Latin America, and spirituality in music.

This concert explored the latter topic and was one of several dedicated to Beverly Sills, who had a profound influence on every aspect of Lincoln Center and whose indomitable spirit and extraordinary artistry touched everyone who encountered her. The poignant works performed on this evening – Rachmaninov’s “Liturgy of St John Chrysostom” and Fauré’s “Requiem” – were especially appropriate choices to honor her memory as they both employ the human voice to evoke the numerous dimensions of the human soul and spirit.

Rachmaninov’s “Liturgy of St John Chrysostom” is a setting of the most frequently used liturgy in the Eastern Orthodox Church. Similar in form and function to the Roman Catholic Mass, the Liturgy is celebrated on Sundays and feast-days and is the focal point of spirituality and worship in the Eastern Orthodox religious tradition. Composed in 1910 in the midst of the ‘Golden Age’ of Russian Orthodox sacred choral music, Rachmaninov’s setting is even fuller than Tchaikovsky’s “Liturgy” of 1878, which served as both a model and inspiration.

This performance omitted some of the shorter hymns and responses and focused on the major sections to produce a monumental choral work which the Swedish Choir, one of the most celebrated and respected a cappella ensembles, sang with remarkably rapt intensity. Conducted by Kaspars Putniņš, the 32 members of the choir demonstrated a wonderful precision of ensemble and produced an enormous range of color, from the darkest to the most luminous. This was a splendid, sensitive performance in which command of sonority and beauty of tone were such as to exhaust superlatives.

The choir was also superb in the second half of the concert, in which Louis Langrée conducted it and members of the Mostly Mozart Festival Orchestra in an inspired performance of the 1893 version of Fauré’s “Requiem”. This original, spare-textured version uses a chorus, soloists, organ, and a chamber orchestra with no violins (except for solo violin) or woodwinds. (Fauré’s arrangement for full orchestra was published in 1901.) In this performance, Langrée brought out the coloring of the unconventional orchestra in distinct detail, with the brass and organ sounding especially vivid.

Both soloists were excellent. The bright-voiced Sophie Karthäuser was touchingly simple and innocent in the ‘Pie Jesu’, and Dietrich Henschel made a powerful and secure impression in the ‘Libera me’, in which the Swedish Radio Choir singers and the orchestra displayed a wonderfully subtle range of color and dynamic. Concertmaster Krista Bennion Feeney’s sweet and gently rising violin solo at the beginning of the ‘Sanctus’ was ethereally beautiful.

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