Classical Cafe:

Review: Haydn's 'Theresienmesse' at Church Street's Master Arts Series

Scholarly musical arguments are always a bit fun, even if they have little or nothing to do with actual performances. In the case of Haydn's Theresienmesse--heard on Thursday evening courtesy of the intriguing Master Arts Series at Church Street United Methodist--the original score carried only the name Missa. Subsequently, the Mass was referred to as Theresienmesse because it was believed to have been composed for Marie Therese, the wife of Emperor Francis II. In fact, it was commissioned by Nicholas II, Prince of Esterhazy, as one of a series of six yearly masses to celebrate the name day of his wife, Marie Hermenegild. It has been reported that the Princess was an admirer of Haydn's music; the overall positive tone of the work perhaps reflects their friendship.

Thursday's excellent performance at Church Street highlighted Haydn's innate ability to surprise the listener with the unexpected, while offering a lot of satisfying melodic and harmonic moments and dramatic dynamic contrasts of calmness juxtaposed against energy. 

In a collaboration that we'd like to see more of, Conductor Lucas Richman and the Knoxville Symphony Chamber Orchestra gave a crisply textured performance in support of the combined choral forces of the Knoxville Chamber Chorale and the Church Street Parish Adult Choir. The excellent quartet of soloists from the church were soprano Jami Rogers Anderson, mezzo-soprano Lauren Lyles, tenor Alex Ward, and bass Daniel Webb. In this performance, I was particularly struck by Lyles, whose power, expressive dynamics, and clarity of diction, especially in her lower ranges, were impressive. Ward's tenor was attractively rich and incisive.

One other performer cannot escape mention here--and that is the gorgeous stone, wood, and voluminous Gothic Revival nave of Church Street. Of course, the visual environment of the church is perfect for dramatic choral works--and the nave's natural reverberative character is supportive of voice, organ, and strings. However, this luscious resonant acoustic quality is a two-edged sword; the natural reverberation richly supports vocal and choral volume and blend, but it, like many historic cathedrals, unfortunately possesses an acoustic signature that often works against diction and clarity. 

One is most likely to encounter the works of Josef Rheinberger (1839-1901) today in melodically tuneful works for organ and solo instruments played as incidental music in church services. For that reason, the inclusion of his Organ Concerto No. 2 in G Minor to open the concert on Thursday was certainly a welcome event. Also welcome was the performance by Church Street's organist, Edie Johnson, who wove Rheinberger's fresh melodic inventions energetically against the orchestra's harmonic textures (sans woodwinds) in strings and brass.

A recording of the performance will be aired on WUOT-FM at a future date. Church Street's Master Arts Series continues monthly through May. Information is available on the church's website. 

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About This Blog

Alan Sherrod serves up a big plate of nourishing commentary on the Knoxville classical music and fine arts scene.