Chicago Master Singers soar in rare masterworks by Schumann and Bruckner

Sat Nov 06, 2010 at 11:51 am

By Bryant Manning

Alan Heatherington

It was likely not a concert on most people’s radar, but Friday night’s event in the north suburbs offered one of the choral highlights of the year.

Conductor Alan Heatherington, his Ars Viva Orchestra, a quartet of vocalists and the Chicago Master Singers were top-flight companions in large works of sacred music by Schumann and Bruckner. The music seemed tailor-made for the Divine Word Chapel, a cathedral with a live-wire acoustic that rises like a skyscraper in the remote enclave of Techny, near Northbrook. On an otherwise loaded night of music around the Chicago area, commuters were certainly well rewarded.

As the Schumann bicentennial winds down, it was a treat to hear his neglected Requiem, Op. 148, a work criminally underperformed on the concert circuit and even in the recording studio. Like Mozart’s own mass for the perished, there is speculation that its composer was in fact writing it for himself, and there seems to be a slow acceptance of fate that courses through the piece. (Schumann died four years after this Requiem was published). Perhaps this was best heard in the final Agnus Dei, where its gradual evaporation of sound artfully embodies feelings of permanent resignation. 

And yet at about forty minutes, the work is thoroughly dramatic enough—with its unpredictable interjections of brass—to give audiences its requisite jolts of exultation.

Of the reduced Ars Viva ensemble however—which was likely overshadowed by the glorious singing of the featured ensemble—no praise can be too high. Even in a space as resonant and unequivocally loud as the Divine Word venue, instrumental performances were cleanly precise and proportionately affecting.

The Schumann may have been the main attraction, but it was Bruckner’s heavyweight Mass in F minor that anchored the evening. Holding them together was the chance to hear the perspectives of two very different men writing substantive sacred music: one for whom going to church was a rarity, the other whose religious faith defined his very being.

With its Wagnerian harmonies and gorgeous polyphonic writing, Heatherington believes this sprawling mass to be “the finest setting of the liturgical text of the mass by any composer in the history of Western music.”

A heady claim, to be sure, but what mattered was that Heatherington treated Bruckner’s Mass as if it really was that, giving great care to sonorities and details in the opening Kyrie and particularly the epic Credo. 

If Bruckner has written more beautifully mature music than in the Benedictus, I haven’t heard it. Impeccably textured strings give way to the most astonishing vocal play, and here the four singers—Michelle Areyzaga (soprano), Theresa Brancaccio (mezzo-soprano), Kurt R. Hansen (tenor) and Peter Van De Graaff (bass-baritone)—rose to their greatest heights of the evening. To take nothing away from the other three vocalists, Michelle Areyzaga stood out for her magnificently dexterous soprano that projected best in the chapel’s cavernous space.

Even after its exhausting 67 minutes, Heatherington turned to the crowd and looked wholly revitalized and transformed. This program will be repeated Sunday night and shouldn’t be missed.

Alan Heatheringon leads the Chicago Master Singers and Ars Viva Orchestra in Schumann’s Requiem and Bruckner’s Mass in F minor 7 p.m. Sunday at Divine Word Chapel in Techny.; 877-825-5267

Posted in Performances

3 Responses to “Chicago Master Singers soar in rare masterworks by Schumann and Bruckner”

  1. Posted Nov 07, 2010 at 10:49 am by Diddy Blyth

    I was in the middle of all that marvelous music directly behind the trombone section; I am an Alto I. This truly was a concert to remember and savor. The maestro lead us to precious heights of exquisite musicianship which is rare and a privilage in and for all ages. Thank you Maestro Heatherington.

  2. Posted Nov 07, 2010 at 4:02 pm by MIRIAM JOY MAGER


  3. Posted Nov 08, 2010 at 9:19 am by Chandler Branch

    I was privileged to attend the Sunday November 7 performance. What a wonderful program, and so beautifully and powerfully executed! Congratulations to the Chicago Master Singers, Ars Viva and Maestro Heatherington. What a gift to Chicago-area music lovers.

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