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Music Review: Bach Sinfonia impresses with Mozart, Salieri requiems

By Cecelia Porter
Monday, October 25, 2010; C04

Aptly titled " 'Til Death Do Us Part," the Bach Sinfonia's impressive concert of requiems by Mozart and his older contemporary Antonio Salieri spoke of intrigue, myth and mystery. The group's director, Daniel Abraham, serves up programs with enticing themes, and Saturday's performance at the new Cultural Arts Center on Montgomery College's Silver Spring campus was no exception. Abraham led his 16-member chorus and period-instrument chamber orchestra in a splendid reading of these works, balancing scholarly know-how with sheerly beautiful sound, pungent drama and cogent delivery. Abraham's singers (four to a part) and instrumentalists sounded luminous and focused in the modest-size auditorium.

Recent research has clarified long-held controversies about the two composers' professional relationship and untangled the slew of posthumous additions to Mozart's unfinished Mass -- a deathbed statement. The popular movie "Amadeus," adapted from Peter Shaffer's play, further fueled the myth that Salieri poisoned Mozart. No evidence supports such a dastardly deed; in fact, the younger composer could well have died during a virulent epidemic wracking Vienna. And Salieri himself was a successful opera composer, a composition teacher of Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt, and the prestigious court Kapellmeister. But a conniving dilettante count really did commission Mozart's Requiem, K. 626, and claim credit for composing it, while Mozart's wife schemed to win part of the commission payment.

The Mozart was simply electrifying. Drawn from the chorus, the superb soloists were luminous and well-matched as the emotional cast of the work moved between solemnity or disquieting fear to unbounded ecstasy. Abraham used Robert D. Levin's acclaimed edition of the work. For the Salieri setting (in Jane Schatkin Hettrick's edition), Abraham highlighted its supreme songfulness, while never missing the powerful unisons between voices and instruments that fortify the most terrifying moments. He also gently underscored the buoyant dancelike sections and fleet counterpoint that intermittently spring up between the more somber areas of the Mass.

Porter is a freelance writer.

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