For the concert, Tina Johns Heidrich conducted her 55-voice chorus in a 250th birthday tribute to Mozart with his Missa Brevis, K. 194, and "Ave Verum Corpus." Then came a revival of what was a popular work 100 years ago: Parker's oratorio "Hora Novissima."
Besides the always excellent chorus and orchestra that Heidrich directed, four soloists appeared in both works: Louise Fauteux, soprano; Colleen Callahan, mezzo-soprano; Richard Slade, tenor; Kevin Grace, baritone. All the soloists exhibited clear, strong voices, but it was soprano Fauteux who exhibited a voice of special purity and power.
It is unfortunate that Saint Rose of Lima church was not filled for this concert. Aficionados of choral music of the romantic tradition missed hearing a masterfully composed oratorio by the German-trained Parker. What made it of special local interest was that Parker was Charles Ives' music teacher at Yale.
"Ave Verum Corpus," one of Mozart's most beautiful melodies, led off the concert. The chorus provided a lush reading, well balanced in all voices. The Missa Brevis that followed seemed to have little of the inspiration of the "Ave Verum."There is a simple answer why. When Mozart was under the employ of the Archbishop of Salzburg, he produced more than a dozen masses, many of the "brevis" (short) type. It seems the Archbishop did not want his masses to go beyond 45 minutes of prayers and music. In this one, only the Kyrie and the "Dona Nobis Pacem" had the energy and compositional cleverness expected of Mozart. Overall it was workmanlike Mozart.
After intermission, the orchestra was augmented by horns, trombones, tubas, and timpani, and an organ. This alone was a big clue about what was coming. Parker's hour-long oratorio, written at the age of 28 before he came to Yale, was definitely of the German romantic tradition. Choral fortissimos and orchestral blasts permeated this 11-part work, though the composer always contrasted these with musical quiet time. Parker didn't believe in allowing anyone in the audience to fall asleep for very long.
The basis of "Hora Novissima" are the words of a 12th century monk who was obsessed with the evil in the world; he wrote in Latin of his concerns about the difficulties of getting to heaven, entitling it (in English translation) "Rhythm of the Celestial Country." Parker used the original Latin for his text. Interestingly, Ives chose part of the same work for his oratorio entitled "The Celestial Country," written a year after graduating from Yale.
What persists after having heard "Hora Novissima" is the obvious excellence of Parker's choral and orchestral writing. His counter melodies flowed wonderfully. If I were asked which of the 11 segments I especially would like to hear again, it would be the chorus "Pars, mea, Rex meus," (My portion, my God).
Here was bold, exciting music that led to an emphatic fugue, all impeccably produced by chorus and orchestra.
About two-thirds through the oratorio, just when I found Parker becoming a bit predictable, he changed gears to a folksy and charming chorus, "Stant Syon atria" (The Halls of Zion). Here was a kinship to Antonin Dvorak, with whom Parker taught at New York's National Conservatory of Music several years before composing this work.
The drama and forcefulness of the final chorus, with underpinning by organist Joseph Jacovino, Jr., was somewhat anticlimactic due to many such endings in previous segments. Still the overall effect of "Hora Novissima" was of a work well worth reviving. Heidrich, as always, managed to elicit the maximum of passion from the music.