A Celestial ‘Requiem’ for a Solemn Occasion
A review by Marc Shulgold
Sadly, the glorious sacred works of Renaissance brothers Giovanni and Felice Anerio have all but faded away in the passage of time. But their music wasn’t the only revival featured in a stunning concert by Timothy Krueger’s St. Martin’s Chamber Choir earlier this month.
The middle of three weekend concerts proved a moving experience for a rapt audience in St. Elizabeth’s Church on the Auraria campus on Nov. 3 – not just for the heavenly music sung by a dozen singers, but also as a sad reflection of the nearly-forgotten memory of World War I. Krueger titled these concerts “The Eleventh Hour,” reminding his listeners that the formal ending of that dreadful conflagration occurred at the 11th hour of November 11, 1918 – exactly 100 years ago. And so, to honor the 20 million who perished during that senseless war, the conductor and his superb mini-chorus offered Giovanni Francesco
Anerio’s Missa Pro Defunctis, a Mass for the Dead, a work Krueger described as one of “uplifting solemnity.” And indeed it was.
This transparent music proved a perfect fit for St. Elizabeth’s warm acoustics, while the small church’s traditional look only added to the other-worldly feel of the performance. Reducing his chamber choir to three singers per part, Krueger chose to scale things down even more by assigning three segments of the Mass to a vocal trio. It was a welcome decision, injecting a much-needed change in vocal color to the 40-minute work. He also added a single bass string instrument, Anne Marie Morgan’s warmly resonant viola da gamba, which brought a subtle but effective bottom to Anerio’s lush harmonies.
With altos and sopranos each placed on opposite ends of the choir, the four-part writing achieved a wondrous clarity. Enunciation was exemplary, though the room’s reverberance sometimes clouded the texts.
The program opened with a lovely short work by Giovanni, Cantate Domino (“O sing unto the Lord a new song”) that led to a welcome comparison of the two brothers’ composing style. We heard Christus factus est by Felice Anerio (1560-1614), followed by Unam petii from Giovanni (1569-1630).
Mention should also be made of Krueger’s charming pre-concert plea for contributions. As a way to demonstrate each progressively larger increment of financial assistance, he led an increasingly larger contingent of singers, who filled out the harmonies in the score – starting with most of the dozen singers silent, as the conductor dramatically waved his arms toward the non-participants. Amusing – but very effective.