The Kansas City Summer Singers and chamber orchestra filled the nave of Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral with 18th Century music on a very warm Saturday evening on Aug. 22. By programming early American composers against Mozart, Dr. William O. Baker established a contemporaneous relationship between our founding fathers and the Viennese rebel, one of the first musical entrepreneurs; there were, in fact, American musicians writing music at the same time as was Wolfgang. One not included in the program was, arguably, Ben Franklin, himself, who is credited by some with penning a five movement, scordatura (retuned) quartet for three violins and a cello. Whoever composed it, it is more an oddity than representative art.
American composer, Louis Gottschalk was not yet on the scene, but inventors of fuguing tunes (designed to be sung in a round) were plentiful. First on the agenda was “Northfield,” by Jeremiah Ingalls (1764-1838). Many of these canonic tunes were composed with a pentatonic (five note) musical palette, which gives them an open (not Oriental) sound. The Isaac Watts hymn, “O praise the Lord of Heaven,” was sung with an appropriately straight tone from the large choir.
Three numbers by William Billings (1746-1800) followed: his setting of a Psalm 148 paraphrase, “When Jesus Wept,” and “Chester,” (“When tyrants shake”). Some scholars call for a strong 3:1 ratio on the dotted rhythms, but many groups, as did this one, fall into a more popular 2:1. The music , with its pure fourths and fifths, was quite satisfying, in a Sacred Harp manner.
Part II of the program included Sacred Harp settings by Daniel Read (1757-1836) Justin Morgan (1747-1798) and hymns by Moravian composer, John Antes (1740-1811); “Go, Congregation, Go,” and “Surely He hath borne our griefs;” soprano, Sarah Tannehill Anderson, introduced the pathos-filled text. The chorus maintained the reverent mood established by the soloist.
Part III was all Mozart (1756-1791). The ever-so-familiar “Ave verum corpus,” was conducted by student intern, Jennifer Berroth; it was unrushed and complete. A little softer soft could have emphasized the crescendo more.
Mozart’s Requiem, completed after the master’s death by his student and assistant, Franz Xaver Süssmayr, completed the last 55 minutes of the concert. Dr. Baker wisely took no orchestral risk by bringing in a fully professional ensemble, headed by concertmaster Alex Shum, an esteemed first violin in the Kansas City Symphony. Likewise, the vocal quartet consisting of Ms Anderson; mezzo-soprano, Kristee Haney (whose introduction to the Agnus Dei was profoundly rich) tenor, David Adams; and baritone, Joshua Lawlor; only required molding into a unified ensemble, which they were.
The singers delivered Mozart’s own sense of terror, devotion, faith, and submission when contemplating entry into eternity. The horrors of judgement in the Dies Irae are balanced by the devotional Domine Jesu Christe, whose contrapuntal weavings, initiated in solemn melody by the basses, seem to incorporate the whole of creation in a faithful pleading for salvation from the wrath of God, in Christ’s name. Each section entered with clear text, good musical line, and clear definition, not unlike a good organ fugue.
The near-capacity audience was appropriately appreciative of this satisfying performance. This 17th annual presentation of the Summer Singers is already available on U-Tube.