For the first time in two decades, the Chatham Chorale will bring Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s celebrated and beloved Requiem to Cape audiences. The 100-plus singers, meticulously prepared by music director Joseph Marchio, will be joined by a full orchestra and stellar vocal soloists in a single not-to-be-missed performance on Sunday, November 16, at the acoustically superb auditorium of Mattacheese Middle School in West Yarmouth, MA.
“This Requiem holds such a special place in the choral repertoire,” says Marchio, “and I wanted to make sure we had the right forces assembled to do it the best style.” Since taking the reins of the group four years ago, Marchio has worked to hone the unified sound and vocal technique the work calls for. He has also engaged top-flight instrumentalists from the Cape Symphony and Boston to play the timeless score—including the rarely heard parts for two basset horns.
What’s a basset horn?
“Basically it’s an oversize clarinet with a bend near the top and additional keys that give it an extended lower range and a darker, richer timbre than a standard clarinet,” says Marchio. Mozart loved the sound of this instrument and used it in several important works—never more memorably than in the Requiem, where the basset horn solo that begins the first movement establishes the mood of the piece: “lyrical but melancholy, full of gravitas, sort of like a dark cloud approaching on the horizon.” That darkness can be heard as foreshadowing Mozart’s impending death; he left the Requiem not even half finished.
The first basset horn part in the Requiem will be played by Chester Brezniak on a basset horn owned by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. A noted wind player and instructor at UMass Boston and Worcester Polytechnic Institute, Brezniak is the former principal clarinet of the Sao Paulo Symphony in Brazil. He notes that while Mozart exploited the instrument’s low notes in other works, “in the Requiem, the basset horn parts are written quite high. This makes them technically challenging but imparts a sweet yet haunting quality, like a mezzo-soprano voice.”
The solo vocal quartet for this Requiem is a distinguished group. Singing the exquisite soprano part is Rachele Schmiege, who has earned raves for her performances in both opera and concert settings; she was heard with the Chorale last May in the Cape Symphony concerts of the Verdi Requiem. Taking the mezzo role is Desiree Maira, who has appeared with the Chorale twice before, most recently in Haydn’s “Lord Nelson” Mass last year. Maira performs widely in opera and oratorio repertoire and has taught at Boston Conservatory. Tenor Matthew White appears in oratorio and opera in the Boston area and Florida, his current home. Baritone Colin Levin, who recently joined the faculty of the Tanglewood Institute, also reunites with the Chorale after previous solo turns in Beethoven’s Mass in C and Vaughan Williams’s Dona Nobis Pacem.
More than any other classical work, Mozart’s Requiem has become embedded in popular culture—especially since the 1989 hit film Amadeus portrayed the composer dictating one of its movements on his deathbed. We’ve heard bits and pieces of the score—especially the hair-raising “Dies irae” (Day of wrath) and the tender “Lachrymosa”—in more than 20 movies, from The Big Lebowski to X-Men 2. We remain fascinated by its mysterious origins—it was commissioned anonymously by the eccentric Count
von Walsegg—as well as its almost miraculous completion by Franz Süssmayer, Mozart’s relatively unknown contemporary. But it’s on the strength of the glorious music that the Requiem ranks so high among favorite choral works for audiences and singers alike. Cape Cod rarely enjoys a performance like this one, Marchio promises, “done in the classic Mozartean style.”
Marchio draws attention to the unusual orchestration Mozart used for the Requiem: “not just the basset horns, but he has three trombones and no flutes at all, very rare for the typical classical-era band. The whole effect he achieves is solemn and monumental but never depressing, always beautiful and even dance-like at times.”
To kick off this all-Mozart program, soprano Rachele Schmiege and the orchestra will perform the
composer’s brilliantly virtuosic solo motet Exsultate, jubilate. Hailed for her “crystalline voice” and “absolutely thrilling” portrayals, Schmiege performs a wide range of repertoire throughout North America; she debuted at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in 2008.
Top-notch soloists for the Mozart Requiem will also include mezzo-soprano Desiree Maira and baritone Colin Levin. Providing piano accompaniment will be the distinguished musician Donald Enos, who also holds the Wesley DeLacey Chair in Perpetuity at the Cape Symphony Orchestra.
The Chatham Chorale is one of Cape Cod’s longest-established choral ensembles, for 44 years presenting an annual concert series with programs ranging from choral masterworks to Broadway, pops stylings, and premieres of new works by regional composers. The Chorale also regularly collaborates with the Cape Cod Symphony.
Tickets ($25 open/$30 reserved) can be purchased by telephone, 888-556-2707, or at the door the day of the concert. Students and those under 18 admitted free with a ticket (call the number above). For more information, visit www.chathamchorale.org.