Reviews ...

Polymnia's stirring Mozart concert

... celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth

by Jackie Wattenberg

The Polymnia Choral Society took on a program of serious Mozart on Sunday afternoon, and came off with it handsomely. Not an empty seat was available in our First Congregational Church for the chorus with a marvelous small orchestra and stunning soloists.

Musicians of the world are celebrating the 250th anniversary of Mozart's birth, so our resident choral group, under Michelle Graveline, chose a small Regina Coeli as a starter, then the grand Grand Mass in C. Minor. This mass is vicious with florid runs that never cease and were magnificently executed by soprano Denise Konicek and mezzo-soprano Pamela Dellal. Ms. Dellal's voice has a pearly opulence that is compelling in legato and in those dangerous runs. When she rises into the peak of her coloratura, Ms. Konicek reveals a sound of crystalline purity and exquisiteness--a tone whose remarkable quality I have never before encountered. Both of these singers took a few minutes for their voices to warm up, then they were superb!

The opening work was sung at full-force, full-volume, and the chorus resounded with energy and exciting power. Soloists here also included two impressive sopranos, Susan Stetson and mezzo Eileen Christianson, along with fine tenor Bob Eggers, and Philip Kukura, whose bass-baritone has a distinctive and appealing quality.

Ms. Graveline was apparently determined to make this concert notable--she conducted a small 13-member orchestra along with her chorus, adding a richness that these works deserve. Although the acoustics in this rather small, squarish church are known to be imperfect, the instruments came forth beautifully, carrying well, neither lost nor too intense; a rich accompaniment for the religious passages.

Mozart's great Requiem is to me the most moving of his works--or perhaps by any composer--but this mass is colorful and varied in its sections, while remaining solemn in its respect for the religious text. Ms. Graveline had firm control of her performers, keeping certain sections firm-paced, with the singers responding to her intent. Much of the work was with full volume, so the Qui Tolis section's soft-toned response was affecting. The dazzling Laudamus Te, a challenge for any soprano, was inserted in the mass and remarkably dashed off by Ms. Konicek.

Sitting about halfway in the church's space from the chorus, I found the sound was a little blasting, so I moved to the rear of the chamber--not a chance to try other corners since the large crowd left only a chair at the rear. Here the sound had only the wall behind me to reach, no chance for flowing freely, so the sound was very sharp especially when the chorus was at its most fortissimo, which was through most of the mass. With the added color of the orchestra, it's too bad this fine performance didn't have the finer acoustics of St. Mary's Church. First Congregrational has a unique and welcoming form, suitable for church services and meetings. But the full-throttled sounds Polymnia can issue deserve more expansive space to transport their fullest tones. The conductor had obviously worked successfully to gain effective cutoffs and attacks throughout the program, and the audience rose quickly for a standing ovation for the conductor and all the performers--vocal and instrumental. The chorus sounded as good as I've ever heard it, though when the men entered on the Ah sound, as in the Sanctus, their tone was tinged with a nasal quality instead of with a more open O sound to keep the tone pure.

The listed tenor and bass had little to worry about; Allen Combs demonstrated his, firm, warm tenor in a trio with the soprano and mezzo-soprano, and in the final quarter in the Benedictus Osanna. But this final quartet was our only chance to hear the dark, robust and effortless bass voice of Donald Wilkinson. Apparently Mozart never quite completed this work, where the tenor and bass would have figured in more.

This elaborate and exciting performance by Polymnia is surely something for us in Melrose to be cheering about. In a time of war-making and national cutbacks, having our own choral society and our own symphony are very special gifts in spring or any season.

This article is reprinted, with permission from the Melrose Free Press - March 23, 2006.

April 7, 2006

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