On Sunday afternoon, the Connecticut Master Chorale, conducted by its founder Tina Johns Heidrich, brought two of Rutter's latest works to Saint Rose Church: "Mass of the Children" (2003) and "Feel the Spirit" (2001). The church was standing room only both for the audience as well as "onstage," for the 55-voice Chorale was joined by the 30-voice Litchfield County Children's Choir and two soloists in the opening work.
Rutter has provided a beautiful composition in his "Mass of the Children," which uses portions of the Latin Mass, but begins and ends with texts from English hymns. In this sense, it is a pastiche of Roman Catholicism and Church of England. It would have helped the listener if the texts of the English hymns had been printed in the program. Also, Rutter conceived the whole work as "a day in life," beginning with a morning hymn and ending with an evening hymn. Stating this in the program would have helped explain why Rutter chose to call the last part of the Mass, a "Finale."
All that aside, Heidrich chose well in bringing together the necessary musical forces for this 35 minute work. The Children's Choir was a perfect counterpart for the Chorale, matching them in the vividness of their singing. Soloists Louise Fauteux, soprano, and Michael Cavalieri, baritone, sang with clear diction, firmness of voice, and excellent tone quality. Rutter's clever orchestrations were well delivered by the 23 members of the Chorale Orchestra.
Rutter made the children's choir an integral part of the work; they are the first to be heard, singing a morning prayer before the "Kyrie" is introduced by the adult voices, a quiet beginning to the day. The "Gloria," energetically rendered with prominent trumpet and clashing cymbals, showed the Chorale at its best. What proved highly satisfactory, both in form and execution, was the "Agnus Dei," (Lamb of God). The children sang the William Blake poem "Little Lamb, Who Made Thee?" against a somber rendering of the Latin words, Agnus Dei, by the full chorus.
Here was Rutter at his most effective. Similarly effective was the "Finale," an evening hymn sung quietly by children in counterpoint to the adults' "Dona nobis pacem" (Grant us peace).
After intermission, the Chorale and soloist Lainie Diamond, mezzo-soprano, offered "Rutter the Arranger" to the packed church. In "Feel the Spirit," Rutter took seven spirituals and arranged them for soprano, chorus and orchestra. Clearly he wanted to give variety of musical styles to these well-known works.
For example, with "I Got a Robe" the orchestral introduction was ragtime, but then Caribbean rhythms intruded and I expected Harry Belafonte, not Diamond. The orchestral introduction to "Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child" had an ominous character, but then happily mellowed by the warm and poignant quality of the singing of these emotional words by an unaccompanied Diamond.
The Chorale sang marvelously and emphatically, though in my estimation the powerful words of the spirituals got lost in the arrangements. I wish Rutter had saved the truly memorable "Ev'ry Time I feel the Spirit" for the conclusion. Done with a blues feeling, it was a big hit to every listener there. Instead Rutter concluded with the popular "When the Saints Go March In" (Gospel song or spiritual?), but puffed it up out of proportion by having the chorus provide a fortissimo introduction singing "Glory, Glory, Hallelujah" before the saints marched in.
It is good to hear new works, and the Chorale and soloists continue to bring the unusual to us, year after year. For that I am thankful because I know the performance will be of the highest quality. Now, bring on the Russians! (The Chorale's May concert's theme, that is.)