Arts & Events

Updated: Berkeley CCO presents Requiems by Mozart and Cherubini

James Roy MacBean
Monday January 09, 2017 - 04:25:00 PM

Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra presented three concerts over the weekend of January 6-8 at Hertz Hall. Featured were Mozart’s famous Requiem and the less well-known but highly acclaimed Requiem in C minor by Luigi Cherubini. BCCO’s Music Director Ming Luke conducted the Mozart Requiem at the Saturday concert I attended, while Assistant Conductor Eric Choate led the Cherubini Requiem. 

Luigi Cherubini was born in Florence in 1760, studied counterpoint in Milan under Giuseppe Sarti (1777-80), and began composing church music in a florid Neapolitan style. He settled briefly in London (1784-6), then moved to Paris where his career flourished. Perhaps best known for his opera Médée (Medea), Cherubini was considered by Beethoven to be his greatest contemporary composer. Berlioz heaped praise on Cherubini’s Requiem in C minor, calling it the “greatest of his (Cherubini’s) works.” Under the baton of Eric Choate, BCCO gave a sterling account of this fine Requiem, which offers dramatic concision, fullness of form, and sublimity of style. The opening Introitus and Kyrie begins in the low registers with cellos and basses. The Kyrie section is quite dramatic. The ensuing Graduale is brisk, and the lengthy Dies Irae is agitated from the outset, though the transition to the Lacrymosa is tender and full of sadness. The Offertorium begins joyously, then offers an exciting double fugue, heard both before and after the brief Hostias section. A combined Agnus Dei and Lux aeterna brings Cherubini’s C minor Requiem to a glorious close featuring the chorus entering in overlapping fashion singing in octaves. 

After intermission, BCCO returned led by Ming Luke to perform the Mozart Requiem in the familiar version completed after the composer’s death by Mozart’s copyist Franz Süssmayr. Featured soloists were soprano Ariana Strahl, mezzo-soprano Silvie Jensen, baritone Matt Hanscom, and tenor Kirk Dougherty. The opening Requiem and Kyrie began with full chorus, with the high sopranos soaring above on the word “luceat” (light). Soloist Ariana Strahl sang gloriously the “Te decet hymnus.” In the Kyrie section, Mozart offers a fine double fugue worthy of his illustrious predecessors Bach and Handel. The ensuing Dies Irae is aggressive and wrathful. The Tuba mirum section is introduced by the famous trombone solo, beautifully played by principal trombonist Jake Harris longtime BCCO trombonist Jeff Mertens Here all four soloists take turns in pleading for God’s mercy on Judgment Day. The brief Rex tremendae offers dotted rhythms of staccato notes. The Recordare features all four soloists again pleading for mercy. The Confutatis offers a brief section for full chorus. Mozart’s Lacrymosa opens with the violins playing a mournful melody, soon joined by the chorus with voices rising on the words “judicandus homo reus” (“all humanity will be judged”). Weeping violins bring this saddest of Lacrymosas to a close. The Domine Jesu section is assertively hopeful, and the Hostias is a solemn prayer. For the final Sanctus, Süssmayr adroitly reused the double fugue from the Kyrie, bringing Mozart’s great Requiem to a glorious close. This was a fine rendition of Mozart’s Requiem, with superb choral singing and four fine soloists, all led by conductor Ming Luke’s dynamic sense of the music’s inexorable momentum.