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Mozart's splendor eludes Choral Arts

The Baltimore Choral Arts Society attempted to scale the Everest that is the genius of Mozart Saturday night by presenting two of the composer's masterworks. The fact that the Violin Concerto No. 5 and the great C Minor Mass never fulfilled Mozart's splendor may say more about how difficult this music is than the inadequacies of the performances at Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

The Violin Concerto No. 5 set the tone for the evening. The orchestra was infused with a healthy dose of Baltimore Symphony players, giving it a more mature sound. Conductor Tom Hall and the rest of the orchestra seemed too excited, however, and the result was animated but out-of-kilter music-making. The tempos never settled.

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Violin soloist Andrew Wasylusko made this wonderful music sound like an exercise. He did try to emote something in the Adagio, but his sound was simply too small and one-dimensional.

The C Minor Mass that formed the second half of the program was better but suffered some of the defects found in the earlier concerto performance. The opening Kyrie had some wonderful choral singing, but the rhythmic pulse was a little too quick, and the loss of pathos was regrettable. Soprano Janice Chandler finely rendered the "Christie eleison" section of the movement.

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The chorus again was superb in the exciting opening section of the Gloria. It produced a beautifully blended sound in the homophonic passage, and the contrapuntal sections had true Handelian vigor.

The famous and taxing "Laudamus te," with its trills and florid challenges, was exciting, but it wasn't Mozart. Soprano Linda Mabbs seemed to be performing some Donizetti or early Verdi work instead. This composition does point toward later virtuoso arias, but overheating the emotion just kills the music.

The concluding sections of the Gloria were excellent. The tragic five-part chorus "Gratias agimus tibi" was deeply moving and may have been the highlight of the evening. Sadly, the "Quoniam tu solus santus" brought things down, sounding like a vocal competition with no sense of ensemble.

The Credo was pleasing. "Et incarnatus est" revealed the reason for the BSO's role. The lovely singing of Ms. Chandler was accompanied by the assured performances of the BSO's Emily Controulis (flute), Jane Marvine (oboe) and Phillip Kolker (bassoon). Ms. Controulis made the most of this only appearance for flute in the mass without overshadowing her colleagues. The result was the most genuine Mozart of the evening.


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