At the close of the Handel and Haydn Society’s Sunday performance of Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Harry Christophers, the orchestra, and the choir, along with featured performers Teresa Wakim (soprano), Paula Murrihy (mezzo-soprano), Thomas Cooley (tenor), and Sumner Thompson (baritone) received a well-deserved standing ovation. Applauding the closing performance for the Society’s 197th season was bittersweet: We will have to wait until October to see Christophers and company perform at Symphony Hall again. While we won’t get another performance until the next season, however, this weekend’s performances were recorded for a CD release on the CORO label in September. It is available for pre-order through the Handel and Haydn Society Online Shop.
Sunday’s program was a fascinating mix of pieces from Handel, Haydn, and Mozart. As Christophers notes, “When I devised the program, I had not considered its aptness to the Diamond Jubilee celebrations for Queen Elizabeth II, but it seems a rather nice touch to honor her incredible reign with this program devoted to monarchs and coronation.” The succession of pieces mirrored the escalation of a grand and sacred celebration. Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from Solomon produced an airy and pleasant tone that was soon intensified by the first appearance of stunning soprano Wakim performing Mozart’s “Exsultate, jubilate.” Haydn’s “Symphony No. 85,” capped the first group of performances. After intermission, Handel’s “Coronation Anthem No. 1, Zadok the Priest,” picked up on the pleasantries of the first half of the program before blasting Symphony Hall with the power of the Society’s thirty plus chorus singing “God save the king, long live the king, may the king live forever!” This jubilant piece set the stage for the crowning jewel of the evening: Mozart’s “Mass in C Major, K. 317, Coronation.” One of Mozart’s most popular sacred works, the “Coronation” was completed in 1779, and was likely performed on Easter Sunday of that year. This collection of pieces marvelously summed up and extended the whole program, serving as an appropriate end to the season.
Much can be said for the featured performers—for all the performers. However, the secret to Handel and Haydn Society performances is Harry Christophers. Christophers is part magician, part mad scientist. His conducting is the work of a dedicated, loving leader. When the side door opens, and Christophers enters, a visible excitement washes over the orchestra like a surge of electricity. There is a healthy amount of respect for the maestro, but it’s more than respect. It’s the knowledge that Christophers will guide them all to their best, most passionate performances. Fixing my eyes on Christopher for Mozart’s “Exsultate, jubilate,” I witnessed a mixture of conjuring and dancing. The rhythmic movements of Christophers’ hands reveal a practiced grace—a grace born not of repetitive motion, but of music itself channeled through knowing hands.
While we wait to see what Christophers and company have in store for us next season, the Society will continue to bolster its mission through donations and subscriptions for the 2012-2013 season. That mission, as Society chairman Nicholas Gleysteen notes, is “to provide historically informed performances of Baroque and Classical music at the highest artistic levels; it is also committed to the community through education and outreach programs.” Please visit the Handel and Haydn Society website to learn more. See you in October!