Intending to enjoy and to review Sunday's choral concert, the need to think added greatly to the pleasure of the evening. Jeffrey Thomas selected works by Mozart and Haydn; he used the UC Davis Symphony Orchestra, the University Chorus and Chamber Singers, and he invited outstanding guest soloists: soprano Arianna Zukerman, mezzo Katherine McKee, tenor Wesley Rogers and bass Matthew Trevino, all of whom have operatic backgrounds. Opera experience for chorales such as Mozart's Requiem? Of course, we say. But who with an orthodox view of sacred music would have anticipated the changes that took place during the latter part of the 18th century when Haydn and Mozart were composing? They were, Heaven forgive them, being influenced by Italian opera.
In fact, the second piece of the evening, Mozart's Exsultate jubilate, K 165, was composed in Milan for the lead castrato in Mozart's opera Lucio Silla. Never at a loss, the young Mozart composed several pieces in the last weeks of 1773, while he was waiting to go home to Austria. Arianna Zukerman, with a gorgeous coloratura and a voice so distinctive one would recognze her anywhere, sang the solo with a small orchestra and Mr. Thomas conducting. Trills, roulades, ornamented lines, glides from low notes to high: Miss Zukerman gave the exultant music her expressive all. The closing Alleluias seemed an outpouring from her heart.
If sacred music were meant to be celebratory rather than expressive, the point Charles Rosen makes about orthodox Roman Catholic Church preferences in his masterwork 'The Classical Style', then surely the expressive qualities in Sunday's program seemed to make it music for a concert hall rather than for a church. Still, only briefly at the very beginning, with Haydn's Missa brevis Sancti Joannis de Deo, did the orchestral instruments seem to overwhelm the choral voices; if it is the voice which celebrates, for the most part the University Chamber Singers did indeed pay heed to the words as might have the voices of the Brothers of Mercy at Leopoldstadt, for whom Haydn composed the mass more than 200 years ago. While voices and instruments blended, the Latin words were always clear. And the choral voices, while celebratory, seemed to express feelings from grief to penitence to joy. Certainly as the mass reached the Benedictus and the soprano solo, Miss Zukerman's voice rang out with such power and beauty that it was like a blessing from another world.
The Haydn is called familiarly 'The Little Organ Mass.' Mr. Thomas played the organ, while Fawzi Haimor was a sensitive, attentive conductor.
With Haydn's Mass as an introduction, the Mozart Requiem, K626 (Mass in d minor) was the climax of an amazing evening. For this, the full orchestra, the University Chorus and the Quartet took the stage. An expert in music theory and history might hear easily that Mozart was influenced by opera but that he also returned to old-fashioned compositional techniques like counterpoint and fugue. I admit I was so taken by the music---whether the blended voices of Miss McKee and Miss Zukerman, or strong solos by Mr. Trevino and Mr. Rogers, or individually distinct, harmonious and balanced sections of the Chorus---that I did not even follow English translations of the Requiem in the program much less think of following a score. And, as lovers of Mozart know, the Requiem was completed by others after the com;poser's death. I cannot compare Robert D. Levin's completion---Jeffrey Thomas's choice for this performance---with other earlier completions because I haven't heard them. But the music seemed to be Mozart from beginning to end.
Before attending another concert of sacred music, I shall surely review the order of the mass, from Introitus to Communion, read the words before I go...and listen to a recording of whatever we shall hear. I missed a lot on Sunday. However, I did hear the sincere, prayerful qualities of the human voice, especially as the University Chorus balanced with the orchestra to conclude the evening with Mozart's Ave verum corpus, K618. And I did throughout the evening succumb to the spell of Mozart and Haydn.