Is there anything better than listening to Mozart on a wintry afternoon? The Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir seems to agree, with its latest program, Mostly Mozart, featuring works composed, well, mostly by the 18th-century wunderkind.
Sunday's matinee included with the St. Boniface Cathedral's Grand Concert Series also featured members of the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra, as well as guest soloists Nikki Einfeld, soprano; Kirsten Schellenberg, alto; Aaron Hutton, tenor; and David Watson, bass, who appeared during the program's second half.
Now celebrating its 91st year, the venerable choral ensemble, led by artistic director Yuri Klaz, is going strong. It's also a pleasure to hear 85 voices rise in song for the sheer love of making music together -- and make music they did.
All of 46 bars long, Mozart's Ave Verum Corpus never loses its ability to stir the soul with its divine simplicity. The WPC sang as hushed, heavenly angels, with Klaz setting a leisurely tempo that allowed the piece's flowing melodic phrases to rise and fall. The mostly older audience appeared so moved, there was, unusually, no applause following the short performance.
The program's centrepiece, Mozart's Mass in C minor, K. 427, has been shrouded in mystery ever since it was first composed in 1783. One of a pair of major choral works never completed by Mozart -- the other being the monumental Requiem, K. 626 -- its complete absence of the Agnus Dei movement and a truncated Credo has stumped musicologists for years.
The Kyrie provided the first taste of Einfeld's clear lyric soprano, with the Winnipeg-born singer confidently handling her virtuosic solo part, first performed by Mozart's wife Constanze during its Salzburg première. Her Et incarnates est (Credo) similarly showcased her ability to crescendo on a single, stratospheric note, as she wove her own suspended spell.
Schellenberg is an artist who keeps getting better all the time. Her solo Laudamus te (Gloria) displayed this audience favourite's always-warm delivery and ability to fully inhabit whatever she sings.
The gifted Hutton held his own against the two female powerhouses during trio Quoniam tu solus (Gloria). They were joined later in final quartet Benedictus qui venit by veteran vocalist Watson -- well worth the wait -- who has enthralled audiences for years with his commanding stage presence and booming voice.
Each of the sacred work's choruses was sung with clarity and precision, with the Qui tollis (Gloria) and Sanctus' fugue particular highlights.
Despite the cathedral's glorious, light-filled sanctuary, both the hall's acoustics and sightlines proved a challenge. It also became disconcerting to see the four soloists hopping up and down off tightly crammed risers, virtually disappearing when not onstage, and only a stumble away from disaster.
The program also included Sergei Taneyev's Cantata John of Damascus, based on Alexei Tolstoi's poetry. At times the doubling with the orchestra felt bass-heavy; the tenors also at times reached too zealously for their top notes. Still, the intense work fondly known as the Russian Requiem provided a dramatic foil for Mozart's more classically inclined cantata.
As expected, the crowd leapt to its feet with a rousing standing ovation for the musicians.