The Octavo Singers took on two of Anton Bruckner’s choral works Saturday night at St. George’s Episcopal Church and did remarkably well. A few of the 95 singers might have sung one of the works in the 1980s, but Bruckner’s “Te Deum” and his “Requiem” were new for most. It was quite an achievement.
To get the capacity crowd warmed up to the serious works ahead, artistic director Curtis Funk programmed the Autumn and the Winter movements from Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” Michael Emery, the concertmaster for the 19-piece orchestra, was the soloist.
He attacked his part with a ferocity that only a massive winter storm would have matched. His part, which was filled with a blizzard of notes and double stops for the fast sections and long tender phrases for the short slow passages, is a virtuosic showpiece for a violinist. Other than a few rough technical patches and pitch that wavered here and there, Emery did very well, especially in Winter’s famous opening. He also did interesting things with dynamics and tempo alterations.
Bruckner’s “Te Deum” was written when he was in his 40s, when he had begun to find his voice as a composer. There were four soloists who all blended nicely: soprano Kelly Hutchinson; mezzo-soprano Ann Marie Adamick; tenor Alexander Turpin and bass Victor Klimash. The chorus, orchestra and organ opened the work with a big sound that almost overwhelmed the space. As such, Latin diction was blurred and balances were uneven, but the melodies were beautiful and there were thrilling moments.
It was unfamiliar territory for the chorus as Bruckner didn’t use them in conventional ways. Sometimes they were in unison, other times in four-part harmony. Resolutions were unpredictable, ranges were pushed and there was a fugue. The soloists rarely sang long phrases, although Turpin seemed to have more to sing. The piece ended gloriously.
In contrast, Bruckner’s “Requiem,” which he’d written at 25 – a massive achievement in itself – was almost a comfort zone. Inspired by Mozart and Schubert, his score was lighter, more transparent with reasonable and direct vocal lines. The chorus often sang at mid-level and sounded terrific with clearer diction. Balances were easy and Funk kept a strong pace with solid tempos.
Because it’s the holiday season, Funk offered a cheery, short Vivaldi Concerto Grosso before the 35-minute Requiem began. The crowd loved it all.