The Hickory Choral Society presented a warm and poignant reading of Mozart’s Requiem to an enthusiastic and appreciative audience of local classical fans. The concert, featuring guest conductor Dr. Eric Nelson, was a triumph of community artistic collaboration — despite a few odd choices regarding online marketing.
While HCS provided an excellent concert preview for CVNC, HCS’s own website listed the event only as “Spring Concert” – a bit modest for a work as exciting and popular as the Requiem. That said, HCS certainly isn’t hurting for attendance. If you go to one of their performances, show up at least half an hour early, because competition for parking and seating alike is brutal — if one may use that adjective when competing with very genteel elderly ladies.
HCS is a community organization consisting of over 110 volunteer singers. They support community engagement and music education, as exemplified by their membership and by their resident conductor, J. Don Coleman, a former high school chorus teacher. The community support for this organization is one of its highlights; this choir is the model for how to get folks of all ages involved in music-making and music-listening. They will be collaborating with Western Piedmont Symphony to present Mahler’s thrilling Resurrection Symphony for the orchestra’s 50th anniversary celebration next month, an event that is not to be missed.
The program opened with Mozart’s "Ave verum corpus," K.618, led by Nelson. The maestro worked without a score for this first piece, leading the choir and orchestra in a gentle interpretation that stayed out of the way of the marvelous effortlessness of the work. Mozart is perennially one of those composers whose work is deceptively simple and incredibly difficult at the same time. Letting the music speak for itself is always much appreciated.
The main event, the Requiem Mass in D minor, featured a quartet of local talent. High school and middle school chorus teachers, an Army veteran, and a paramedic created a truly sensitive and memorable ensemble that was notable even more for their musicianship than for their varied day jobs. Mara Walker, soprano, H. Shay Starnes, alto, Paul van Breeman, tenor, and Danny Gouge, bass, balanced soloistic grace with a subtle ensemble blend that brought the "Recordare Jesu" and the Benedictus compellingly to life.
Mozart’s Requiem has always held a special place in the popular imagination. It is impossible not to think of the tragedy of a brilliant composer’s life cut all too short. The work is a strange compilation of Mozart’s sketching and his student Sussmayr’s attempt to complete what the master left undone. This performance used Franz Beyer's 1983 version of the piece. Regardless of the edition used, there is always a moment when the listener realizes that Mozart’s light has gone out of the music; even though the choral parts are original, there is something about the quality that is lost as Sussmayr’s work takes over in the orchestral accompaniment. It’s as if every time this work is performed, we relive Mozart’s death again.
The poignancy of the composition is only heightened by the dramatic place of the work in the popular imagination, making this programmatic call all the more gutsy. It was a daring choice, and yet the HCS and its orchestral friends made it to the aesthetic level in which the audience became totally lost in the music. Nelson’s leadership was exceptional in its clarity and subtlety, from the dramatic phrase shaping in the "Dies Irae" to the gentle musicality of the famous "Lacrymosa." Kyra Zhang and Matt Libera’s performances on the basset horn were striking, especially adept at bridging the gap between the orchestra and the tenor and bass parts. The orchestra was stylistically at home with the work, including Charles Smith’s truly sensitive timpani.
The HCS’s official season is over, but you still have two more chances to catch them before things quiet down for the summer. Don’t miss Mahler 2 or the June pops concert! Hopefully the marketing folks at Western Piedmont Symphony will get the info to our calendar in short order.