MENOTTI: Missa “O Pulchritudo”; VIERNE: Messe Solennelle – William Ferris Chorale/Joan Gibbons, soprano/Deborah Fair, mezzo soprano/John Vorrasi, tenor/Thomas Sillitti, bass/William Ferris Chorale/Composer Festival Orchestra/ Wm. Ferris – Cecille

by | Jan 21, 2007 | Classical Reissue Reviews | 0 comments

MENOTTI: Missa “O Pulchritudo”; VIERNE: Messe Solennelle – William Ferris Chorale/Joan Gibbons, soprano/Deborah Fair, mezzo soprano/John Vorrasi, tenor/Thomas Sillitti, bass/William Ferris Chorale/Composer Festival Orchestra/Thomas Weisflog, grand organ/Dexter Bailey, choir organ/William Ferris Chorale/William Ferris, conductor – Cedille Records 7001, 72:47 ****:

The William Ferris Chorale celebrated its 35th anniversary in 2006 with the release of this disc. This recording contains live performances recorded in 1982 and 1988.  William Ferris was characterized as a lifelong champion of contemporary composers. His choir performed the compositions of many acclaimed 20th century composers, often with them in the audience as honored guests.  

Gian Carlo Menotti is well known throughout the world, most notably for his children’s opera, “Amahl and the Night Visitors,” which was immortalized on American television on Christmas Eve 1951 and shown for many seasons.  He founded the Spoleto Music Festivals in both Italy and the United States (where the William Ferris Chorale performed), and for many years directed these annual celebrations of the arts that feature accomplished performers from throughout the world.  Menotti actually requested that Ferris’ choir perform his Missa “O Pulchritudo.” The story of the artistic collaboration and friendship between Ferris and Menotti includes a telling quote from the composer after he witnessed another choir perform his music badly: “Bill, you love my “Missa” – you’ll perform it for me, won’t you?”  

It is obvious to the listener than William Ferris did love Menotti’s work.  This performance displayed the passionate spirituality of this composition.  For those who are familiar with Menotti’s characteristic harmonies, this recording will prove deeply satisfying and familiar.  Ferris respected the composer’s musical and spiritual framework, as well as the careful balance needed between the singers and the instrumentalists.  The chorus sang with power and majesty. The soloists were regal and dramatic, in keeping with Menotti’s original intent.  William Ferris was a choral conductor (as well as a distinguished composer in his own right) who really understood Menotti’s music and had the courage to let it guide him and his singers to an emotionally strong and proud performance. 

The Messa Solennelle by Louis Vierne is a work of almost ethereal beauty and grandeur.  This composition was written in 1899 to showcase the instruments and acoustics of Notre Dame, where Vierne was appointed as organist the next year.  It contains a lovely assortment of characteristically French melodies that paint a colorful picture for the listener.  It is interesting that these musical images were sketched by a composer who was born nearly blind.  An operation in his youth partially restored his vision and enabled him to read and compose music with the aid of a magnifying glass. Obviously, his sensitive heart could feel the colors that his eyes could not really see.  The performance of his work on this disc is another example of masterful choral singing. 

Since this can be characterized as a period recording in terms of the sound, it is understandable if the resulting sonority does not quite reach the level of some newer discs.  The recording was obviously achieved by careful planning and wise engineering of the time.  The performances are so good that it will take its rightful place among the great choral recordings.  For many listeners, myself included, a live recording such as this transcends the potential acoustical compromises and becomes an unforgettable moment in time, a musical memory of this extraordinary partnership between brilliant composers and a sensitive conductor. 

Tracklist: Missa “O Pulchritudo” (Kyrie, Gloria, Motet: O Pulchritudo, Sanctus and Benedictus, Agnus Dei); Messe Solennelle, Op. 16 (Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus, Agnus Dei) 

– Ann Stahmer

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