Gloria Musicae: old and new
Gloria Musicae has come a long way since Joseph Holt took over as Artistic Director. For one thing, the group of all-professional, all-paid singers has taken on a much younger look and sound. But it’s also started delving into repertoire that’s made it an adventurous, exciting ensemble that could easily match powers with major professional choral forces around the country. In short, it’s living up to its name.
The program Gloria Musicae presented recently at Sarasota’s First United Methodist Church, with the excellent singers of the State College of Florida Chamber Choir, soloists and the Gloria Musicae Chamber Ensemble (made mostly of players from the Sarasota Orchestra), opened with the rarely performed “Messa Di Gloria” by Puccini. This is a primarily joyful, energetic, beautiful work that Puccini wrote when he was just 22. In fact, he wrote it about six years after the Verdi Requiem was premiered and it sounds, in part, much more like Verdi than Puccini, showing that Puccini cleverly knew what worked and what would be popular at the time.
The first two movements — the Kyrie and Gloria — have wonderfully rhythmic, exciting sections and some of them are so filled with Verdi’s harmonies and bass lines, one would swear they were written by that composer and not Puccini. The Credo opens with a minor, menacing theme, with the chorus in unison, followed by a rich tenor solo, chorus and bass. But the final two segments – the Sanctus/Benedictus, and Agnus Dei, give the feeling Puccini had had enough and wanted to move on to bigger, more theatrical works and, as a result, the Mass, which starts with such exuberance, ends with a whimper.
Still, the performers were excellent with the choral forces singing clearly and succinctly, with harmonic and verbal perfection. Holt held the ensemble together so entrances and final consonants were together and accurate. Tenor Adam Bielamowicz was in fine form and, although bass-baritone James Shaffran spread some tones on top and sounded raw in the lower parts of his range, the middle of his voice was quite beautiful and warm.
The second part of the concert was devoted to contemporary composer Ola Gjeila’s “Sunrise Mass.” Using overlaying sounds, very much like Paul Winter and the Polish composer, Henryk Gorecki, the chorus, in perfect harmony, managed to produce several moments of harmonics and overtones that were both beautiful and spine-chilling. The “Amen” sections were simply stunning and the shimmering sounds they produced proved Holt can elicit great music from his forces.