Mozart’s Mass in C Minor at the TSO

Mozart_Boulianne, Guilmette,Goodwin,F-Lazure, Bintner, Tessier 2 (Malcolm Cook photo)

Mozart’s C Minor Mass is a masterpiece and its every appearance in the TSO season (or Tafelmusik’s) should be lauded. Even if you may not find yourself thrilled by some of the aspects of the execution, as was the case last night. Soloists-wise, the Mass is chiefly on the shoulders of the soprano and the mezzo, and to my surprise two usually reliable singers Hélène Guilmette and Julie Boulianne—who both also released remarkable recordings with ATMA Classique recently—disappointed a little bit. Guilmette top was pale to begin with, but as the Mass progressed it thinned into bare existence. The very difficult Et Incarnatus, in which the soprano is paired with the three woodwind section leaders and even minor imperfections in vocal performance are made glaringly visible was actually stressful to listen to. Not all the notes were there, and some entrances seemed imprecisely timed, but more importantly, there was no smoothness and ease of tone. On the upside, Guilmette’s dramatic talent managed to shine—there was inflection, engagement, emotion, and in that department you felt amply rewarded as a listener.

Opposite case with Boulianne, who performed her parts abstracted, demonstrating scarce interest in what she was singing. I have never heard a Laudamus Te sung with total indifference. Boulianne’s technique was absolutely fine, and she successfully showcased the richness, darkness and ripeness of her colour—if perhaps a little too consistently so. But there was no engagement. Apart from the Laudamus, the mezzo rarely raised her eyes from the score, and seemed to take no pleasure in singing.

The tenor Jean-Philippe Fortier-Lazure and bass-baritone Gordon Bintner don’t have a lot to do but supply a little extra colouring to the Quoniam and the Benedictus. They were both fine, but the S-A lead the way in the ensembles. Consequently, the Quoniam, another demanding segment in which SAT are interweaving and canon-izing the coloraturas and the overall dynamics is all wonderfully wavey and topsy-turvy, was also somewhat stressful to listen to.

We were much luckier with the sound of the chorus and the orchestra. Conductor Paul Goodwin (TSO debut, hurrah—keep bringing new guest conductors, TSO) comes with considerable HIP experience, always a great advantage for conducting Mozart. His tempi were a bit brisk for my liking—I prefer Qui Tollis more agonizing than that—but even so, the subtleties were not lost. The choral forces were massive, with both the Amadeus and Elmer Iseler Singers present, and at first I thought that the chorus should have been reduced for the occasion, the way the symphonic orchestras are customarily thinned down for Mozart and Haydn. However, they’ve won me over—they proved agile and dynamic even in those numbers.

First part of the evening was dedicated to the two of the Mozart’s lesser performed fragments, Lo sposo deluso and Zaide. I’m sure a team of enthusiastic singers who’ve studied the fragments and are eager to convince us of their brilliance would manage to win us over to the qualities of the work. This concert performance didn’t do that for me. Our soloists gave us a highly competent, even pretty read, but one that is concert through and through. I found myself daydreaming of some Haydn instead; I get that it’s a Mozart festival, but some bits by Mozart’s contemporaries could be smuggled in for the occasion. And besides, some Mozart fragments and early works *should* indeed remain under-performed.

To sum up and conclude, I’ll finish with the same sentence that I begin with: Mozart’s C Minor Mass is a masterpiece and its very programming should be lauded. Let’s hear it again in the not so distant future, TSO.

Remaining performances on January 24th and Januar 25th. Details.

The photo by Malcolm Cook shows Boulianne,  Guilmette, F-Lazure, Goodwin, Bintner, and tenor John Tessier. 

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