Conductor: Louis Langrée
Martin: Polyptyque: Six Images of the Passion of Christ
Bach: Chorales from St. John Passion
Concert Chorale of New York
Violinist: Patricia Kopatchinskaja
Mozart: Requiem, K. 626
Concert Chorale of New York
Mezzo-soprano: Kelley O'Connor
Soprano: Susanna Phillips
Tenor: Dimitri Pittas
Bass: Morris Robinson
You know that summer is coming to an end when days are significantly shorter, temperatures slightly cooler, and the Requiem suddenly appears on the Mostly Mozart Festival's program. But not all years are created the same, and 2014 promised to be particularly interesting millésime as Mozart's unfinished masterpiece was paired with another equally religious, yet drastically different, contemporary work in Frank Martin's "Polyptyque: Six Images of the Passion of Christ". To make things even more intriguing, this relatively new work for two string orchestras and violin would be interspersed with chorales from Bach's St. John Passion, an established classic among liturgical compositions.
There was nothing in this offering that my friend Christine and I could possibly object to, so we met on Saturday evening near the Lincoln Plaza, where a growing crowd was getting ready for the Met's HD screening of La Bohème, made our way to the top of the Avery Fisher Hall, and became a part of the packed audience.
Written at the request of Yehudi Menuhin to commemorate the 25th anniversary of UNESCO's International Music Council, Martin's "Polyptyque: Six Images of the Passion of Christ" is a series of six vibrant tableaux inspired by Renaissance painted panels that had caught the composer's attention in Siena. Brought to life by myriads of strings, the piece beautifully combined the deep earnestness of sacred music and the visceral immediacy of human emotions. Young but unmistakably assertive violinist Patricia Kopatchinskaja masterfully handled both attractive lines and scratchier sounds while the two orchestras played with both force and subtlety. The Concert Chorale of New York added immaculately serene interludes between each movement, and the whole Calvinist-Lutheran alliance somehow made unusual sense to me. It has also made me eager to hear the Polyptyque by itself in the near future.
After an opening number resolutely off the beaten track, we were back on familiar territory with Mozart's magnificent Requiem, to which maestro Langrée added just enough of a personal touch to keep it intriguing. The Concert Chorale of New York sang again with laudable expressiveness and the four soloists nicely complemented one another. The mood was intense, the pace was brisk, and the performance paid a heart-felt, resounding tribute to the Viennese master.
The ovation was immediate (to a fault. What on earth happened to that precious moment of suspended time after such a memorable journey?), long and loud; many red roses were brought to the stage and distributed to everyone in sight. A well-deserved reward for another mission superbly accomplished on another perfect summer night.