Live Arts Maryland music director J. Ernest Green conducted the Annapolis Chorale Chamber Chorus, Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and soloists last weekend in performances of works by three of the world's finest composers, filling St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis with glorious sound.
Stellar music is a Green hallmark, but he also knows how to entertain and inform — as is his custom, the conductor gave audience members insight into his musical choices, exploring the common musical thread uniting the three pieces on the program: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's "Vesperae solennes de confessore," Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach's Keyboard Concerto in E-major and Anton Bruckner's Requiem in D-minor.
Noting that all three works were written when their respective composers were in their mid-20s, Green said Mozart wrote his "trendy, ground-breaking Vespers piece at age 24 — after having already written 29 symphonies."
Mozart provided the common thread uniting these composers: Green said that Bruckner's Requiem — composed when he was 24 — reflects Mozart's influence. On the program between these two works, Green placed the concerto by Bach, a contemporary of Mozart's who admired Mozart and was also greatly influenced by him.
The evening featured a company of fine singers and four guest artists: soprano Kimberly Christie, tenor David Merrill and baritone Nathan Wyatt; and soloist mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Merrill.
The presentation of Mozart's "Vespers" was boldly compelling from the first notes, with the opening Dixit (Psalm 110) proclaiming the might of the Lord as offered by the majestic sound of the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, joined by the Annapolis Chorale Chamber Chorus.
The Psalm 111 section is contemplative and comforting, and the radiant fifth section, "Laudate Dominum" (Psalm 117), was sung beautifully at St. Anne's by soprano Kimberly Christie, who met every vocal challenge to deliver a soaring rendition.
While the three other soloists — Wyatt, and Elizabeth Merrill and David Merrill, formed a super chorus, it was Christie who shone in solo aria work. She showed both her impressive vocal stamina and amazing versatility. She's wowed us before, notably as an adorable Adelaide in "Guys and Dolls" two seasons back.
The Bach concerto, reminiscent of Mozart in its simplicity, playfulness and joyous melodic content, was captured brilliantly by spirited organ soloist Larry Molinaro.
Bruckner's Requiem concluded the program, and clearly reflected Mozart's influence in the composer's first truly large-scale composition with orchestra. The work premiered in 1849, and gives a hint of the composer of substance Bruckner would become.
The piece is marked by an expressive opening, followed by a Dies Irae featuring a Elizabeth Merrill and David Merrill. The tenor instantly elevated the evening's drama, commanding our attention and sparking a wish to hear him again in an operatic role. Elizabeth Merrill proved an equally commanding presence, engaging us with the beauty of her voice and its dramatic power.
In his solo passages, Wyatt surpassed the high expectations of those who had heard him previously.
Coming next at St. Anne's Church will be the final classical concert of the Live Arts Maryland season, "The Spirit Soars: Music of the Russian and Eastern Traditions," scheduled for performances at 7:30 p.m. April 4 and 8 p.m. April 5.
The show will feature Alexander Gretchaninov's "Vespers," John Taverner's "Song of Athene," Henryk Gorecki's "Totus Tuus," Peteris Vasks' "Pater Noster" and Eric Whitacre's "Her Sacred Spirit Soars."
St. Anne's Church is at 199 Duke of Gloucester St., Annapolis. For more information or to order tickets, go to liveartsmaryland.org.