Collegium 1704′s ‘Great’ Performance

Collegium 1704

Václav Luks (center) conducts an outstanding performance of Mozart’s ‘Great Mass in C Minor’ with Collegium 1704 and guests.

Baroque orchestra Collegium 1704’s last concert sold out every seat. The timing couldn’t have been better.

The Feb 24 concert marked the beginning of Lent. Their featured opus, Mozart’s Great Mass in C Minor, is labeled “Great” mainly due to the impressive scope of Mozart’s composition. Yet it is a piece very much conducive to a period of self-reflection and restraint.

Composing works as profound and moving as the words themselves, Mozart brings the full weight of his originality and talent to bear in this Mass.

The magic of his composition is less in its sweep than in its details, and in its relationships, which play out in the sonic interaction between the orchestra, the double choir, and the four soloists.

On this point, Collegium 1704 delivered a superb performance. The orchestra, under the direction of conductor Václav Luks, executed the score with a delicate precision, while the impressive choir Collegium Vocale 1704 played both counterpoint and harmony to the strings’ push and pull.

In front of this formidable wall stood the soloists: Kateřina Kněžíková (soprano), Sophie Harmsen (alto), Václav Čížek (tenor) and Tomáš Král (bass). Ms Kněžíková captured the audience when she carried the concert at one point with the support of only a flute, an oboe, and a bassoon.

Collegium 1704

The four soloists (l-r), Kateřina Kněžíková, soprano; Sophie Harmsen, alto; Václav Čížek, tenor, and Tomáš Král, bass.

Mozart Wrote One ‘On the House’?

This piece is also something of a curiosity as well in that it wasn’t commissioned. Mozart wrote it without sponsorship (on the house, without pay; English idiom), an unusual thing for a working composer of his era to do. Many theories have emerged by historians as to what Mozart’s motive might have been, including that he wrote it for his wife, supposedly in thanks for her recovery from an illness during pregnancy with their first child.

And recover she did – enough, in fact, to sing the soprano lead during the Mass’s debut performance in the summer of 1783.

Sadly, like Mozart’s Requiem,the Great Mass in C Minor remains unfinished. The last part, Agnus Dei, is missing entirely, and the Credo was never completed.

Collegium 1704

Collegium 1704 Baroque orchestra with Collegium 1704 Vocale, and guests

Why Mozart never finished it is a mystery – but the answer is perhaps the easiest one: he didn’t bother. A young man dazzled by his own genius and celebrity, he was easily distracted, always in need of money, and had enough material lying around to be able to cobble together an ending whenever he needed it for a performance.

While we cannot attest to Mrs. Mozart’s or the Salzburg Orchestra’s performance in 1783, the Collegium’s performance that night lived up to the name of the Mass, earning the orchestra a standing ovation and many bravos.

Collegium 1704 will complete its Mass cycle with the upcoming concert of Bach’s Mass in B Minor at the Rudolfinum March 30-31, to celebrate their 10th year anniversary as a classical music orchestra.

– Zuzana Sklenková, Opus Osm assistant editor, and Joshua Mensch, guest writer

Photo Credits: Petra Hajská

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