The 60th anniversary of Buffalo's pre-eminent choral organization is certainly worth shouting about. And to observe this milestone, Music Director Thomas Swan opted to perform Beethoven's Missa Solemnis, one of the greatest major choral works -- some say one of the supreme creations in all of Western art.
It was an immense challenge, answered well by Swan and his massed forces.
The sense of occasion was heightened by congratulatory messages from various national and local governmental bodies, and by a proclamation from Mayor Anthony Masiello naming Wednesday Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus Day.
It was also enhanced by the beauty of the church's sanctuary, with its complementary muted colors and softly dramatic indirect lighting, which accentuated the vertical ascent to the vaulted arches.
Among the highlights of the performance were the fine contrast between the tumultuous choral outpouring on the words "Gloria in excelsis Deo" and Beethoven's prayerful rejoinder "Et in terra pax," followed shortly by the wonderful pealing quality achieved on "glorificamus te."
Following the complexity of the Gloria, the more homophonic opening pages of the Credo were strong and clear, which made this statement seem like the rock of faith the liturgy intended.
In the spacious sanctuary the introductory hymn-like orchestral chords of the Sanctus resounded grandly, while the concluding "Osanna in excelsis" was extremely well done and effective.
The bass solo which opens the Agnus Dei was finely focused and projected, and Swan applied a supple phrasing in the repeated choral phrase "Dona nobis pacem," which brought its supplicatory message home very emotionally, while the repeated "pacem, pacem" near the end had a palpably pleading character and the concluding passage was very well shaped.
The only section in which I sensed a musical weakness was the opening Kyrie, whose predominantly processional tread remained doggedly earthbound.
Most of the other problems could be attributed to the church's resonant acoustics, which were not always kind to the performers. In the incomparably frenetic conclusion of the Gloria, the uplifting modulations and broken rhythms gave every indication of being well executed, but a lot of detail was swallowed up by the huge sanctuary. The solo quartet had a particularly hard time maintaining balance and being heard, with some passages the aural equivalent of viewing an image through the wrong end of a telescope.
But the larger message of Missa Solemnis came through tellingly, and the organization is to be congratulated for a major contribution to the musical year. For its 65th anniversary how about the Berlioz Requiem in the OLV Basilica?
Beethoven Missa Solemnis
60th Anniversary Concert by Buffalo Philharmonic Chorus, with BPO, soprano Cheryl Hudson, mezzo Mary Ann Valaitis, tenor Timothy Schuman and bass Brian Zunner, conducted by Thomas Swan.
Wednesday evening in Assumption Church.