Onion River Chorus Presents Mozart and Haydn

In celebration of its fortieth anniversary year, Montpelier’s Onion River Chorus presents a particularly ambitious and appealing program of Mozart’s great C Minor Mass and Haydn’s achingly lyrical Salve Regina.

The two concerts are Saturday and Sunday, May 12 and 13 at 7:30 PM, both at Montpelier Unitarian Church, 130 Main Street. Admission at the door is $15, $12 for students and seniors.

The 65-member chorus, directed by Larry Gordon, is joined by soloists Mary Bonhag, Sophie Michaux, Gideon Crevoshay and John Harrison, and a select chamber orchestra of strings, oboes, bassoon, brass, tympani and organ. Founded in 1978, the chorus, which is open to any dedicated singers, has consistently presented high quality performances of rarely performed masterpieces ranging from Renaissance to contemporary.

Along with his Requiem, The C Minor Mass is widely regarded as Mozart’s greatest choral work. The work seems to have been composed to fulfill a vow that Mozart made to compose a mass for the occasion of his first return to Salzburg with his new fiancé Constanze in 1783. Like the Requiem, this mass was never finished: of the five movements of the liturgical mass, it is missing the Agnus Dei and the bulk of the Credo. Despite this, the extended work contains some of Mozart’s most dramatic and contrasting choral writing and some of his most sublime writing for solo voices as well as some of his most beautiful instrumental writing. There are two soprano arias, the coloratura Laudamus te and the hauntingly beautiful Et Incarnatus est (this one sung by Mozart’s wife Constanze at the first performance in Salzburg in 1783). Then there is the Domine Deus, a duet for dueling sopranos; the Quoniam a trio for two sopranos and tenor; and the Benedictus for a quartet of two sopranos, tenor and bass.

The choral movements range from four to eight voice parts, and exhibit great variety and contrast. The lyrical Kyrie alternates solo soprano with the chorus. The flamboyant opening of the Gloria is accompanied by brass and tympani, which appear again in the almost military opening of the Credo.

During the time he was writing this mass, Mozart was immersing himself in the study of the works of Bach and Handel, which he accessed in the library of his friend and patron Gottfried van Swieten. Their influence is most particularly evidenced in the great fugue Cum sancto spiritu with closes the Gloria, and in the intricate eight voice Hosanna which forms the finale of the work.

Over the years, various musicologists and editors have used different approaches in preparing performing editions of this work. Some have simply tried to complete some of the missing parts in the movements, which Mozart did write, and some have newly composed the Agnus Dei and the missing sections of the Credo, through the use of parody or elaboration of period sketches by Mozart. ORC’s performance uses a beautiful brand new edition compiled by noted choral conductor Frieder Bernius and Mozart scholar Uwe Wolff that uses the former approach.

Written in 1766, Haydn’s Salve Regina is a wonderfully touching, lyrical, intimate plea to the Holy Mother. It is written for four voices, strings and an extraordinary obbligato organ part (certainly played by Haydn himself at the premiere.) Interrupting a long introductory organ solo the voices cry out “Salve” (hail) no less than three times on an unstable, questioning harmony. The singers describe their inner, desperate emotional state. In the middle movement, at the words “in hac lacrimarum vale” (in this vale of tears) the music comes to rest in E Flat major the ‘key of death.’ The ending of the work is truly remarkable. A long awaited cadence in G minor brings closure but, immediately, and miraculously, is changed into G major. As James Webster interprets it: “In that very moment, as if by an act of grace, the cries of Haydn’s sinners are transformed into an image of salvation.”

Chorus members are especially excited about this program, which they have been rehearsing since January. In further celebration of their fortieth anniversary year, the chorus will present another ambitious and challenging program in December including baroque works by Bohemian composer Jan Dismas Zelenka and French composer Marc Antoine Charpentier, and featuring an orchestra of Baroque period instruments.

Mozart Great Mass in C and Hayen Salve Regina in G concert poster


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