Fauré Requiem May 2010


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For anyone questioning the logic or sensitivity factor in programming a Requiem as the main event of a Sunday afternoon “Mother’s Day” choral concert, consider the primary caveat: Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem” is a decidedly lighter model of the form. As heard in a solid, moving performance by the Santa Barbara Choral Society, Sunday at Los Olivos’ St. Mark’s in the Valley Episcopal Church, this piece came off as virtually a feelgood Requiem, comparatively speaking.Mothers and their offspring had nothing to fear here.

This is not to say the work, one of Fauré’s best-known pieces, isn’t without its proper substance, moments of gravity, musical challenges or higher calling. But Fauré intentionally set out to create a more celebratory Requiem, removed from the foreboding forces of famed examples of the form by Verdi and Mozart. His seven-part Requiem is shorter than most, clocking in at around a half-an-hour. It isn’t without reverential seriousness or counterweighted aspects of both light and dark, but the sum effect inspires a more affirmative emotional effect.

Sunday’s performance was, in fact, a slightly shorter version of the program presented at Hahn Hall in April, and another in a hopefully continuing tradition of performing in this wonderfully accommodating space for classical music. This was also a warm-up for, as well as a preview for, the Choral Society’s upcoming Spain tour next month. The ensemble, led boldly and clearly by director Jo Anne Wasserman, with sturdy organ support by David Potter, made a formidable yet friendly impression.

Whereas other large-scale choral works celebrate the gathered sonic masses of the medium, Fauré’s composition deftly juggles densities and the diversity of high and low, and male and female voices over the course of its parts. Male and female singers intersperse fairly democratically in the Offertory, while the Sanctus reaches a stirring but fleeting crescendo, before the high, sweet and ethereal feminine voices of the Pie Jesus.

This requiem’s Agnus Dei takes some meandering, conspicuously French-flavored harmonic detours, far from the land of Verdi, but veers back to the founded sternness of being in the “Requiem aeternum” statement. That segues naturally into the “day of reckoning” character of the Libera me section, with a calm, prayerful resolution in the final “In paradisum.” In this reading, the Choral Society navigated the mercurial road map of the work and its mood swings with an impressive power and flexibility.

Sampling from the other material prepared for next month’s tour, the group offered up several relevant snippets, cutting across history and cultures. Mozart’s “Ave Verum Corpus” made for a smooth connector between the Requiem and the sampler plate of small pieces, moving from Spanish renaissance composer Tomas Luis de Victoria’s “Ave Maria” to Aaron Copland’s inventively re-harmonized and personalized version of the hymn “By the River,” another case of religious music both dark and light.

From a different sacred music corner, the group gave collective voice to the spiritual, “There is a Balm in Gillead,” arranged by William Dawson and featuring the sensitive singer Brian Lane as soloist, and Marta Keen’s “Homeward Bound” represented the unruffled contemporary melodic choral cause. That tune, fittingly, is planned as the last piece in the forthcoming tour’s last concert, in the gothic Barcelona Cathedral.

All in all, the Choral Society’s performance on Sunday found the group to be in fine fettle and fully roadworthy form.