Berkshire Choral Festival, Berkshire School, Sheffield, MA
August 4, 2012
by Michael J. Moran
Guest conductor Kathy Saltzman Romey, Director of Choral Activities at the University of Minnesota and Artistic Director of the Minnesota Chorale, led urgent performances of two cornerstones of the standard choral repertoire – Haydn’s “Lord Nelson Mass” and Schubert’s “Mass No. 5” – to close the Berkshire Choral Festival’s 2012 season in Sheffield.
The Springfield Symphony Orchestra and the 180-member Berkshire Festival Chorus were accompanied by four vibrant soloists: soprano Mary Wilson; mezzo-soprano Jacqueline Horner-Kwiatek; tenor Christopher Pfund; and baritone Paul Max Tipton.
Both works are products of their composers’ artistic maturity, written just over 20 years apart. As Laura Stanfield Prichard points out in her insightful program notes, the Schubert is performed much less often than the Haydn because Schubert’s “ambitious writing and heady textured harmonies make this work too difficult for most ensembles.” But the Schubert’s lyrical warmth makes it sound more comforting than the tragic drama of Haydn’s Mass, which is also subtitled the “Mass in Time of Anguish” because of the ongoing Napoleonic wars it reflects.
Performances by all the musicians were strong. Wilson’s radiant soprano was touching in both works, as in the closing measures of Haydn’s Credo” or the “Gratias agimus” passage of Schubert’s “Gloria.” Tipton’s mellow baritone was the other standout solo voice. His “Qui tollis peccata mundi” in Haydn’s “Gloria” was resonant, clear, and moving. They blended beautifully with the other two soloists in their frequent ensemble work. The chorus demonstrated some fine unison singing in Haydn’s “Credo” and did full justice to Schubert’s often rich and dense harmonies. Romey drew sensitive playing from brass and strings in both works and particularly from the additional woodwinds in the Schubert.
The exemplary program book also included the full Latin texts of the five standard Mass liturgy sections used by both composers (Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, and Agnus Dei), along with an eloquent tribute to the concert’s dedicatee, the late Mary Hunting Smith, founding executive director of BCF, whose career paved the way for “generations of women arts administrators to come,” like the night’s conductor.