Oratorio Society at Old Cabell Hall

By Amy Briggs

Mozart's Requiem in D Minor, his controversial final composition, has been the topic of endless scholarly debates.
During the early days of his decline into mental instability, Mozart received an anonymous letter which included, in addition to copious amounts of flattery, a substantial sum and the promise of more to come when he completed the work. After discussing the matter with his wife (who advocated religious music as a better medium for his lofty musical endeavors), Mozart began to write, with ever-accelerating intensity. 
The fevered work for his unknown benefactor became a full-blown obsession… which ultimately cost him his life. He spent the last hours on his deathbed holding the pen, combating his own personal demons in a race against the inevitable.
On Saturday, May 25, the Oratorio Society of Charlottesville-Albemarle, or TOSCA, along with members of the University Symphony Orchestra, performed the Requiem and Haydn's Mass in Time of War in cavernous Old Cabell Hall. 
The Memorial Day-inspired selections filled the seats with white-haired veterans and others who strongly identified with the intercessory prayers, sung in commemoration of souls lost in war and national catastrophe.
Already halfway into their fourth decade of performance, TOSCA proved their mettle as a vocal ensemble capable of great breadth and versatility. Under the direction of L. Thomas Vining, a veteran conductor previously with the Denver Symphony and Memphis Symphony Orchestras (he trained under Leonard Bernstein and Leopold Stokowski, among others), the concert began with Haydn's Mass and its dulcet phrasings of church Latin. It was a paean of great exultation, praising the intangible creations of the Higher Power: mercy, glory, and peace. 
The text read like the balm of an Old Testament Psalm, soothing the Saul within us all, inclinations towards anger and retribution. It was a supplication for calm to be restored, and for the storms to diminish and subside.
 But the storms within were apparent in Mozart's Requiem, cloaked in Revelation prophecies and visions of Judgment Day. This was not a simple request to be pardoned; this was a pleading entreaty to be rescued, to be saved from passing from one anguish into another. The minor-key performance was moving on many levels; looking around, I saw quite a few faces cloud in contemplation. 
Although over two centuries have passed since Haydn and Mozart authored these dirges, TOSCA effectively showed that the message is still relevant, especially within the context of the past year, and its vivid reminder of our own mortality.
TOSCA's next performance is their annual sing-in at the Municipal Arts Center on Monday, June 17, where they will perform Brahms. $5.

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