Kansas City – Friday, May 24, 2013 was a big night at Helzberg Hall in the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts. In a program of all 20th Century music, organ and choir dazzled as they presented endearing music to all but the most fuddy-duddy ears.
Dr. Jan Kraybill kicked off the program with an exiting rendering of Prelude and Fugue in G Minor by Marcel Dupré on the Casavant Frères organ. There was probably no one in the room who knew if she made even one mistake (other than she); it was just a flabbergasting presentation of music of the most difficulty and beauty.
Then the Chorale began. Estonia’s Arvo Pärt’s The Beatitudes sets an excerpt from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, from the Gospel according to St. Matthew 5:3-10. Pãrt maintains mostly 19th Century modalities employed in a 20th Century manner. An excruciatingly soft beginning set off a minutes-long crescendo which varied in textures including monodic chant, ladies’ sections duet (which sounded like two voices, they were so matched in timbre, diction and dynamic expression) and a warm, full choir harmony by the time the crescendo reached the mezzo-forte level. At the text, “Rejoice, and be exceeding glad,” all the stops (almost literally) were out in the organ and the choir for a triumphant climax; followed by a fast return to the softness of the beginning.
Rejoice In the Lamb, by Benjamin Britten, arguably England’s greatest composer of the century, takes the eccentric text of an alleged 18th Century madman, Christopher Smart, to form a monumental work of praise to God, using reference to many lowly creatures, as found in the stained glass windows at Visitation Catholic Church. The solos by soprano, Sarah Tannehill; alto, Katherine Crawford; pear-shaped note tenor, Bryan Pinkall and bass Paul Davidson were uniformly room-filling, clear and musical. “For I will consider my cat, Jeoffrey,” is probably the hardest line to sing with a straight face, yet, it was presented as a philosopher recounting a close circle of pious friends. The appropriately arrogant tone in the description of the Mouse, a creature of great personal valour was particularly striking.
Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem was a lesson in the improvisatory treasure found in Gregorian Chant, particularly the Gregorian Requiem Mass. The actual chant lines reached into the voices at times, particularly in the Dies Irae (which was missing from the program text, as was the In Paradisum). The women sang the unadorned chant line for the first stanza and then divided into a parallel organum of exquisite beauty. Baritone, Bryan Taylor sang Domine Jesu Christe with clarity, excellent tone and devotion. Julia Scozzafava, alto, maintained beautiful tone as she filled Helzberg Hall with a scarcely audible Pie Jesu. There are few rooms with the acoustical resonance to serve such aural dessert. Within the range of very, very soft to an occasional moderately soft, Ms Scozzafava brought much of the audience to tears. The applause at the conclusion of the work was somewhat subdued due to the spiritual atmosphere in the room.
Conductor, Charles Bruffy, reappeared on stage with the recently received Grammy for Best Choral Performance of 2012, which stayed on stage as the chorale sang Rene Clausen’s “Set me as a seal.” The audience, now recovered from its reverential mood, rose and gave an extended ovation for the performance, and for the musical pride the ensemble has brought to the City of Fountains.