Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra’s “Stabat Mater”
The Stabat Mater describes the death of Jesus through Mary’s experience. Serious stuff. Pergolesi’s setting of the prayer is a cornerstone of vocal chamber music and among the most revered of the many musical settings of the 1,000-year-old text. The Milwaukee Chamber Orchestra, soprano Amy Conn, mezzo Nicole Warner and conductor Richard Hynson performed it Sunday. They understood the emotional journey of Stabat Mater. Hynson’s subtle dynamics gave point to the key emotional events of the Crucifixion day. The MCO played simply, reverently, rightly.
Conn’s light, focused tone remains pure through the top register. Warner’s hearty mezzo brims with caramel and chocolate richness. Both are skilled musicians with a good sense of Baroque style, but they did not seem to be on the same emotional journey as the rest of the orchestra. Their performance was more like a reading of the work—capable, yet disconnected from the startling, emotional text.
Conn joined the MCO again for John Tavener’s Cantus Mysticus, a setting of Goethe exploring the idea of the Eternal Feminine through the Virgin Mary, the Hindi Maha Maya and the Buddhist Maha Prajavati. Tavener scored Cantus for B-flat clarinet, soprano, and strings. Slow, contemplative music contrasts with ecstatic explosions of light and color, rather in the way of Messiaen. Jazzy, free-form jazz passages representation of Divine Play. Conn shone in Cantus, as she blended into Tavener’s varied textures. Clarinetist William Helmers brought youthful guest to the free-form music.
This program, given at Calvary Church, opened the MCO season. Visit the orchestra’s website for information on the rest of the season.