Fairfield County Chorale 2022-23 Review: Two Neoclassical Masterworks

By David Salazar

Kodaly and Poulenc.

Those are two names you don’t usually group together, unless you’re the Fairfied County Chorale and its music director David Rosenmeyer.

On May 13, 2023, the ensemble performed a concert featuring the “Missa Brevis” by the former and the famed “Gloria” by the latter. And as Rosenmeyer explained in an interaction with the audience prior to the performance, these composers have a lot in common.

First off, both 20th century composers are often looked down upon as lesser than the other serial composers of the time due to their inclination to look backwards with their music rather than in the same direction as their contemporaries; both pieces are full of intense romantic gestures, for example. Another commonality that Rosenmeyer pointed out was their anti-fascist stance that is apparent in both pieces on the program.

First up on the program was Kodaly’s “Missa Brevis,” which the composer created during World War II and is inextricably tied to that time period. The work features three soloists, including a mezzo-soprano, tenor, and bass.

Leading the way was mezzo-soprano Malena Dayen whose earthy tone shone throughout her range in the Gloria’s “Qui tollis peccata mundi, miserere nobis.” Moments later she was joined by Christopher Lau’s dark bass and Pedro Sequera’s bright tenor as the soloists came together for one of the work’s most intimate musical moments.

The Fairfield County Chorale was excellent throughout the Kodaly, the voices unified and seemingly floating above the orchestra; the hall itself isn’t always favorable to the voices, especially when the orchestra is at its strongest, but the balance here was sufficient enough to allow both ensembles to come through potently and evenly. This was especially noticeable during the final “Agnus Dei” where the orchestra’s epic outbursts were met with equal intensity by the chorale. Some of the exposed sections, wherein the choir had to sing without the orchestra’s support sounded a bit more tentative, particularly at the top of the “Benedictus,” but these moments were few and far between.


Then came Poulenc’s “Gloria,” which is undeniably one of the composer’s finest. The soprano soloist in the “Gloria” was Inna Dukach, whose main interventions in her three big movements center on proclamations of “Domine Deus,” or some variation on that. Her initial ones during “Domine Deus, Rex Coelestis” were delicate and gentle, but each successive one seemed to take on a subtle but increased intensity that gave the entire movement a plaintive feel. More impressive was the “Domine Deus Agnus Dei” where the soprano starts the phrase “Domine Deus” on an A4 and having to ascending an octave over the bar-long phrase; and then, she has to do it all over again on the next bar and then six times over the course of the entire piece, intermittent with, initially, passages in the middle of her range, and then passages that creep ever higher up. Through it all, Dukach sustained a solid and elegant legato, her voice never sounding forced or overburdened by the pieces’ vocal demands. There was a greater calm here overall that her singing brought about.

But the knockout came in the work’s final movement where the soprano solo appears amidst a building musical storm at the start of the “Qui Sedes Ad Dexteram Patris” with its incessant repetitions of those opening lines “Thou that sittest at the right hand of the Father, have mercy upon us.” Time and again, those words are repeated throughout the chorus, the orchestra building the tension. If things got a bit sloppy in this section in terms of the overall ensemble, the power of the music still remained potent and even more so when in the midst of it all, every stopped and the soprano uttered the powerful “Amen” as if a voice from above; as now she was the “Domine Deus.” And here Dukach allowed her voice to thunder into the hall with authority and abandon. The soprano eventually joins the chorus in reprising those opening lines, but the power of that initial entrance was truly one of the major spotlights of the entire evening from a musical and even dramatic standpoint. Ditto for her sublime, hushed, ppp “Amen” that brought the entire performance to a close.

In his pre-performance comments, Rosenmeyer pointed out that the entire “Gloria” features a conflict between F and F sharp only for those two notes be reconciled in that final movement, specifically around the words “Jesu Christe,” a glorious moment that the entire ensemble delivered with spine-tingling effect. To bring the work

Rosenmeyer led the performance with tremendous confidence and elegance from the podium. He was constantly engaged throughout, with the chorale and the orchestra, which responded with richness and power. Particularly potent was the string section throughout the Kodaly, especially in the final moments of the work. Similarly enthralling was the use of timpani in the “Gloria.” Performed by Andrew Beal, the timpani was kept relatively subtle and in the background of the work’s dramatic opening; that same gesture closes out the work and on this reprisal, after a cumulative build over the course of the piece, Rosenmeyer allowed his timpanist to go full-blast to cathartic effect.

Next season, the Fairfield County Chorale will bring forth performances of classic works by Bach and Brahms as well as less regularly performed ones by Florence Prince and the “Misatango.” Like this performance, those should be ones should offer similarly wondrous moments.


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