A celebratory finish to the Albany Symphony Orchestra's 2010-2011 Season is as good an expression as any to describe last Saturday's final concert on April 9th. The program entitled "Music for Lent" included three pieces beginning with N. Rimsky-Korsakov's (1844-1908) Russian Easter Festival Overture, selections from Pietro Mascagni's (1863-1945) one act opera Cavalleria Rusticana and the short oratorio Christ on the Mount of Olives by Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827).
The ...Festival Overture set the tone of the celebration, with its big orchestration and myriad of themes, finally giving way to the more introspective beauty of Cavalleria... with its instrumental "Intermezzo" followed by an "Easter Hymn." All seemed to lay the ground work for the post intermission main and final work of the season: the Beethoven oratorio.
It employs full orchestra, chorus, and three soloist to wit: a tenor who sings the role of Christ, a soprano who sings the role of a Seraph - who takes the form of a supra-human cum spiritual being ostensibly acting as a kind of surrogate for God. This quasi-being (one of at least nine or ten) performs various holy duties in God's name inasmuch as the ancient Judaic literature has characterized God as having several different personalities depending upon the various literary traditions seeking to describe Him since He does not describe himself in anthropomorphic terms. It is interesting to note that despite consistent uses of the masculine-"He" and "Him" some of these Seraphs (Seraphim) are feminine.
Some, of course, are young healthy males. All are beautiful, clothed in bright, diaphanous white with six wings: one pair covering the face, one pair covering the feet, and one pair for use in flying. Inquisitive minds cannot help wondering if some of these "beings" were sent to power Ezekiel's chariot to heaven ("Ezekiel saw duh wheel, way up in duh middle uv duh air...an duh little wheel run by faith, an' duh big wheel run by duh grace uv God; uh wheel in uh wheel way up in duh middle uv duh air)" as this Negro spiritual poetry re-images the biblical account. Could it be that some were sent to assist Christ in his ascension to the Father afer his resurrection? Some Western artists have so depicted Him.
In this Beethoven work a Seraph comes to "Counsel" Christ as He meditates alone upon that lonely, height about His duty for which He believes Himself to have been sent into the world. Finally Peter appears to give assurance (or to remind Christ) that he will carry on Christ's work and move the Church forward as he had earlier been commissioned to do. "(Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church)."The six-part masterpiece is formed by Introduction, Recitatives, an aria, a duet and four choruses.
Tenor Leroy Bynum sang the Christ music. Soprano Julie Megginson sang the Seraph(im) music and baritone Logan Rebstock sang the part of Peter. Bynum and Megginson are well known for their signal contribution to the arts in these parts. Rebstock is new to the Auditorium stage. His is a vigorous voice with a sure command of the music. We hope to hear him more often.
This work was sung entirely in German. The soloists are expected to have mastered this language. It was a bit of a chore for the 200-odd member choral union of four largely student choirs of Albany State University, Darton College, Georgia Southwestern State University and The Albany Chorale. It acquitted itself quite well under the sure hand of choral master Marcia Mitchell Hood.
Most noteworthy was the final victorious chorus that ended in a grand fugue signaling Christ's final triumph over His wavering conscious and His resolve to proceed in carrying out His Father's will as the sacrificial lamb in expiation for man's original sin, exposed in Genesis history, and forward for all time.
James Marquis is a composer and emeritus professor of music, retired, at Albany State University.