BAR HARBOR — Mozart’s “Requiem” is considered by many to be the finest piece of music ever composed. After hearing the Mount Desert Summer Chorale perform this spine tingling, awesome (in the proper sense of that word) musical plea for God’s forgiveness of the sins of mankind, it is pretty certain most of the people in the audiences at St. Saviour’s went away in complete agreement.
And it’s nice to think that if the spirit of the composer, who died at age 36, happened to be drifting by Bar Harbor last weekend, how hugely pleased he would have been to hear his final composition sung so beautifully and conducted with such passion by David Schildkret 224 years after Mozart composed it literally on his death bed. George Washington was president at the time. Maine was not even a state.
The evening began with an earlier Mozart piece, “Solemn Vespers for a Confessor,” which Schildkret explained in a brief talk. It reveals a young composer at age 24 full of radical ideas he had not yet learned to edit.
While the “Vespers” may have lacked the cohesive structure of “Requiem,” it was nonetheless a lovely if appropriately soporific opening.
It also introduced the four soloists: soprano Asleif Willmer, mezzo Miriam Schildkret (the conductor’s daughter), baritone Ryan Downey and tenor Ethan DePuy. This quartet of beautiful young people provided stunning vocal interludes that thrilled throughout the evening.
In truth, the chorale seemed somewhat distant in the vespers – if you’ll forgive the obvious simile – like angels, perhaps, singing backup vocals for the four soloists from a hovering cloud. Later, it was revealed that this slight remove was intentional. Surely Schildkret was saving the power of those 100-plus voices for the main event.
In the gorgeous opening sections of the “Requiem,” with its thrumming chords of the double bass and cellos, the clarion brasses and shrill pleas of the violins, the conductor continued to rein in his singers, using them as a marvelous and melodious accompaniment to Willmer’s lovely “Kyrie” solo.
But when he finally did unleash his choir to full effect in the “Dies Irae” movement, it was like fireworks going off. Not just a few jumped in their seats.
The second “Tuba Mirum” movement opened with a mellow solo trombone by James Winters. It seamlessly morphed into a bass solo by Downey, who was soon and equally seamlessly joined by the rest of the solo quartet. The chorale was once again held in check in an interlude that Schildkret aptly described in his program notes as almost a lullaby despite its rather scary text dealing with death and redemption.
Anyone who might have been lulled into a sweet stupor by this gentle moment was once again jolted back to alert by the powerful opening of the “Rex.” Boom! Boom! Boom!
This sort of swelling and ebbing dynamic, which required all eyes of both the chorus and the orchestra be trained on the conductor, continued throughout the “Requiem,” keeping all alternately in a blissed-out reverie or perched on the edge of the pews.
All the strings, the brass and woodwinds of the orchestra couldn’t have provided a more perfect accompaniment. Some notable instrumental highlights of the evening were the aforementioned double bass played by James Adam. It seemed to provide the heartbeat of the piece throughout.
Also noteworthy were the plaintive clarinet solo in the “Lachrymosa” by Eric Thompson and the thunderous timpani played by Cynthia Brooks Bastide. It sounded like the breath of God.