The article below appeared in the Albuquerque Journal of March 24, 2009.
Never let it be said that the New Mexico Symphony Orchestra shrank from letting all stops out for the conclusion of its Beethoven Festival.
The Missa Solemnis is a daunting challenge for any ensemble, but the choral parts are appallingly difficult, with prolonged high notes only one of the many pitfalls. Friday evening at Popejoy Hall quickly became a clear triumph for the organization, and particularly for this amazing NMSO Chorus under the direction of Roger Melone it represents yet another high-water mark.
In his Missa Solemnis, Beethoven, using the full force of the symphony orchestra, takes the familiar text miles beyond any liturgical music that had gone before it.
The illustrative drama is palpable. Indeed, the Romantic musical figure Rubinstein thought the work outrightly disputatious of the text.
Music Director Guillermo Figueroa assembled an excellent cast of soloists, the same four who sang on his recording of the Verdi Requiem with the Music in the Mountains festival. Here the vocalists are nearly always employed as a quartet. There are no individual solo sections, except for a handful of short outbursts.
The noble Kyrie impressively set the table for the entirety of the work, captivating well the sense of space and sonority.
Not surprisingly, Figueroa preferred brisk tempos in general with pacing poised to give maximum momentum to the big moments.
The Gloria spread out over the broadest possible canvas, a kaleidoscope of various moods and emotions. In the plaintive Qui tollis the chorus echoed the sentiments first expressed by the soloists as though approving what had just been said.
Despite the tremendously difficult chromatics, not to mention the sheer stamina required by the chorus, the Quoniam section came off splendidly, driving unrelentingly toward a final and forceful fugal conclusion, swelling and receding on a gigantic scale with an amen to silence all other amens.
After a boldly declamatory opening to the Credo, the solo voice quartet seemed deeply moved in the hushed Et incarnatus est, with Valerie Potter's flute hovering above like a songbird, then leading into to an impassioned Crucifixus. Figueroa deftly led the combined forces through the polyphonic mastery of the movement, demanding an instrumental-like flexibility and range of not only soloists but his choristers as well, ending this section in ethereally subdued tones.
The quiet mood continued into the Sanctus only to break forth with brightest sunlight at the Pleni sunt coeli.
An instrumental Preludium in the lower strings begins one of the composer's most inspired movements, the Benedictus. Concertmaster Krzysztof Zimowski then stepped to the forefront accompanied by a pair of descending flutes, his violin singing its sweet melody at length. Indeed, this entire section might be taken as a movement of a violin concerto, given its scope and difficulty, were it not in competition with the solo voices.
The Agnus Dei began in a spirit of pure lamentation, the mood changing to bright optimism with the entry of the chorus.
(The soloists were: Yali-Marie Williams, soprano; Gabriela Garcia, mezzo-soprano; Richard Clement, tenor; and Ricardo Lugo, bass.)