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Recent seasons have seen the Eastern Music Festival expand with off-series performances held in several venues around the city and outside its base on the bucolic Guilford College campus. New this year was an imaginative program of works composed in Mozart’s last year, 1791. The venue was Christ United Methodist Church, and the performers consisted of a chamber orchestra drawn from the all-faculty Eastern Festival Orchestra and a special 24-member EMF Festival Chorus prepared by Carole Ott. Festival Music Director Gerard Schwarz led these musicians in a very refined, beautifully judged, and stylish performances.
The Clarinet Concerto in A, K. 622, Mozart’s last concerto for any instrument, is considered his greatest. It builds upon the musical depths already explored in his Clarinet Quintet in A, K.581. Mozart had heard the great 18th century clarinet virtuoso Anton Stadler (1753-1812) perform a benefit concert in Vienna. The program notes for Delos CD 3020 recording of both works quote Johann Friedrich Schink, a writer whose note to Stadler says, “Never should I have thought that a clarinet would be capable of imitating a human voice so deceptively.” Mozart composed both works with Stadler’s unique abilities and special clarinet in mind.
The Clarinet Concerto is in the usual three movements. The Allegro has a light and joyful orchestral introduction that leads to the first theme featuring dueling first and second violin sections. The soloist enters, repeating the theme before traversing the clarinet’s whole range with multiple flourishes. One unusual highlight is the clarinet accompanying the orchestra with an Alberti figure over the opening theme. Development explores new keys, F-sharp minor and D, before descending sequences lead to a cheerful end. The heavenly Adagio features the soloist playing the long, spun out primary theme, after which the clarinet's highest and lowest registers are exploited. The cheerful closing Rondo fully explored the tonal color palette of the clarinet with a lot of give-and-take between the soloist and orchestra.
The Clarinet Concerto is usually heard performed on a modern clarinet with the original score modified. This concert was a rare treat. EMF faculty member Shannon Scott played on a clarinet designed to match Stadler’s original instrument, which was a relative of the basset-horn. This was described by an anonymous reviewer in 1802 as “a clarinet going down to the c,” which is lower than a modern instruments’ range. Scott produced a glowing, warm tone as she played with marvelous, seemingly seamless breath control. Her agility and precision in the fastest passages were remarkable. Her trills were thrilling, as were her soaring highs, while her lowest notes were wonderfully pungent. Schwarz’s seating of the orchestra with first violins on his left and seconds on his right highlight Mozart’s intentions. Dynamics were ideally gauged with the soloist never drowned. Orchestra musicians played with chamber music clarity with splendid sectional unity. The woodwinds and the pair of French horns sounded splendid.
Mozart’s Requiem, K.626, has had a complex and checkered history notwithstanding the myths perpetuated in the movie Amadeus or the Pushkin novella. The composer was already fatally ill when an anonymous patron, a Count Walsegg, commissioned it with the intention of presenting it as his own composition. As of Mozart’s death, only the first two numbers, the Requiem aeternam and the Kyrie had been fully written. According to John Burk in Mozart and His Music, “the six movements of the Sequence, from the Dies Irae to the Lacrimosa, ceased after the ninth bar, the offertorium existed in the choral parts with figured bass.” The Sanctus, the Agnus Dei, and the Kyrie were totally missing from the score. Constanze hired Mozart’s pupil Johann Eyblers to fill missing parts until the opening of the Offertorium. Faced with blank pages, he gave up. Franz Xaver Süssmayr, another pupil of the composer who had worked closely with him during the Requiem’s composition, took over; he is responsible for the edition most often performed. Burk aptly describes the music as being “of terrible earnestness and of awesome solemnity.” While Süssmayr claimed to have composed everything from the Sanctus to the end, Burk’s estimate, based on the low level of Süssmayr’s own works, is that Mozart’s creative imagination managed to traverse the intermediary “ghost-writer.” Schwarz used the Süssmayr edition.
This was as fine a performance of Mozart’s Requiem as I have heard. The virtues of the orchestra described in the concerto performance remained. Further authenticity was added by Schwarz’s choice of a pair of basset horns instead of modern clarinets. The brass, two trumpets and three trombones, were excellent. The later got quite a workout and Principal Gregory Cox played the extended trombone solo in the Tuba mirum magnificently. The chorus had been very well prepared. The high level of diction and extraordinary clarity in complex passages was miraculous. This was the only time I did not lose my place during the Sequence.
The roster of vocal soloists was stellar! Andrea Edith Moore brought a bright, even-toned voice to the soprano part. Nancy Maultsby sang the mezzo-soprano part with a full, rich tone that complimented the darker colors of the basset horns. The golden clarion tones of Metropolitan Opera star Anthony Dean Griffey were welcome for the tenor part. The High Point native has a wonderfully individual tone. The even and solid baritone of Sidney Outlaw anchored the low range superbly. His duet with the solo trombone in the Tuba mirum was outstanding. The diction of all four singers was outstanding and their ensemble work together outstanding.
Conductor Schwarz has a tradition of ending his performances of Mozart’s Requiem with the composer’s heavenly "Ave verum corpus," K.618, which received a peerless performance.