Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 15, 2012

Beethoven: Missa Solemnis in D Major, op. 123

Berkshire Choral Festival
Berkshire School, Sheffield, MA
by Kait Rankins

Every year, the Berkshire Choral Festival brings together choral singers from around the world to live and breathe the music for a week, attending music classes and rehearsing for five hours a day. Each singing week culminates in a concert for the public. While BCF's home is in Sheffield, MA, they also have singing weeks in Edinburgh, Scotland, and Mondsee/Salzburg, Austria. This year BCF opened their season in Sheffield with what Beethoven acknowledged as his greatest work: the Missa Solemnis, a liturgical work containing the text of the Latin Catholic Mass.

Under the leadership of guest conductor Craig Hella Johnson, the 80-minute performance flew by, taking on the highs and lows of worship: quiet pleas for mercy and triumphant declaration of faith in God. The choir was accompanied by the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, BCF's partner for the past 31 years, who handled the complex piece with masterful ease.

The concert featured soloists Mary Wilson (soprano), Emily Lodine (mezzo-soprano), Derek Chester (tenor), and Kevin Deas (bass), all of them accomplished classical vocalists who came together to create a magical quartet that led the 200-member choir. Of particular note was Wilson, whose bell-like soprano was bright and easily distinguishable from the choir's rounder sounds. Her tone added clarity and precision to the performance, particularly when paired with Lodine's mezzo-soprano in close harmonies.

At times, the choir seemed to lag slightly and didn't always seem to be together when it came to diction (one notable moment being the clatter of "t" consonants ending a short "et" during the Credo), and there were moments when the tenors and basses should have been in focus but the far more numerous sopranos and altos overpowered them. However, the overall sound was full and majestic, inspiring whispered praise from the audience following the Gloria.

BCF continues its season with three more concerts in Sheffield, starting with Defiant Requiem, a concert drama about Jewish prisoners during WWII created and conducted by Murry Sidlin.