Massive Mozart

13 September 2021

Mozart’s Mass in C minor is one of his more sublime masterpieces, but its impact was somewhat mitigated by unbalanced forces, says Sandra Bowdler

Mozart Mass, UWA Choral Society ·
Winthrop Hall, 12 September 2021 ·

This year, the University of Western Australia choral society is celebrating its 90th year of existence, the University itself being founded in 1911. A festive weekend was in the planning for some time but was disrupted by the ongoing COVID epidemic, with this concert being its sole survivor.

While Winthrop Hall is the choir’s natural home, it is not the greatest venue for classical music, with unkind acoustics and limited sight lines. The concert rather creatively paired Mozart’s Mass with a short liturgical but also celebratory piece by Australian composer Elena Kats-Chernin.

Prelude and Cube was written in 2014 for the 25th anniversary of the Australian Brandenburg Orchestra, originally featuring soprano Jane Sheldon. The text is taken from the Magnificat, a canticle for the Virgin Mary based on a passage in the gospel of Luke, and the Lutheran hymn text Vom Himmel Hoch. The first part is in Bachian style – Prelude and Cube is a cutesy play on Prelude and Fugue, but the second part owes much more to 20th century minimalism, notably Philip Glass. In the first instance, the main contribution came from soprano Prudence Sanders, with gleaming tone clearly projected.

Sanders was one of a quartet of emerging artists on the program, joined by mezzo-soprano Chelsea Kluga, tenor Matt Reuben James Ward and baritone Lachlann Lawton. All have been busy in a range of different concerts over the last year, and all are singers of considerable, if not quite yet fully realised, promise. Each had their chance to shine in the Mozart.

Mozart’s “Great Mass”, or the Mass in C minor (K427) is, despite its unfinished state, one of his more sublime masterpieces. The general version we have inherited is a truncated version of the complete mass as originally planned, but sufficient to be considered “great”.  This is Mozart in Baroque mode, a far cry from his operas, symphonies and chamber music which shaped the Classical period.

Orchestra and choir were conducted by Kristin Bowtell, who has been the UWACS conductor for just under two years, and is also a baritone himself. Helen Kruger, known for her work with Australian Baroque, was the concert master, and a number of players were familiar from the Baroque scene in Perth. The scoring is for quite large numbers for Mozart, but not when compared with later symphonic works; in this instance, there were 28 musicians on the stage, who played with great style and transparency – when they could be heard.

As is often the case with community choirs, there was a much larger number of choristers: 97 in all. This disparity does not lead to great clarity, especially given the muddy acoustics of the venue. It is understandable that everyone is equally deserving of a go, but it does not serve this kind of music very well. However there were moments of enjoyment, especially with respect to the orchestra and the vocal soloists.

The UWA Choral Society’s next performance is “In Terra Pax” on 19 December 2021.

Pictured top: the UWA Choral Society conducted by Kristin Bowtell from a performance in May 2021. Photo supplied

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Author —
Sandra Bowdler

Sandra Bowdler is an archaeologist who has been writing about music for some twenty years, most recently for Opera magazine (UK), Bachtrack and Handel News. She is also the author of “Handel’s Operas in Australia, a performance history” Händel Jarhbuch (2017). Her favourite piece of playground equipment would be the picnic bench with smoked salmon sandwiches and champagne.

Past Articles

  • A musical reunion in less than ideal conditions

    HIP Company marks its first anniversary with an ambitious program that Sandra Bowdler says is hampered somewhat by technology and the choice of venue.

  • Romantic thrills and spills

    Freeze Frame Opera’s “Angels & Devils” presents unlikely opera repertoire in an unusual venue and Sandra Bowdler says it offers a night of good fun and great singing.

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