Mozart’s Requiem – Piety, mythical murder, and mystery. Completed at the time of Mozart’s death and popularized by the 1984 movie Amadeus, this piece has since become the curiosity piece of audiences seeking the signature sensationalism of today’s state-of-the-arts media. Yet the appeal of this hauntingly beautiful and uplifting musical masterpiece does not end with Hollywood and those seeking media sensationalism; countless, top-notch choirs, both in the sacred and secular circles, continue to incorporate it into their performance repertoire. This year, the Downers Grove Choral Society under the direction of Dr. Robert Holst wrapped up their 2010-2011 season – and final season with Dr. Holst – with a grandiose concert featuring not only this crowning jewel of Mozart, as well as other carefully and masterfully chosen musical masterpieces that effectively demonstrated his magnanimous contribution to the chorus.

This particular performance was top-notch for a community effort, featuring full orchestra and world-class soloists. During the Mozart, all the chorus dramatically and solemnly rendered their lines in a foreboding and massive tone truly capable of waking the dead, while the orchestra filled in the gaps with guttural bass and mighty woodwinds. In turn, the individual soloists emotionally and successfully rendered their lines, giving the piece its necessary solemn tone yet simultaneously conveying its less obvious message of resting in peace. Specifically, young soprano Martha Guth, with her florid soprano voice, and tenor Marc Stingley, captivated me most with their light, clear voices and clear dictation, elevating my soul to heaven and further increasing ambiance of the piece’s serene side.

Equally charming proved the chorus’ rendition of As Rivers Seek the Sea by Robert Convery, specially commissioned by the chorus in honor of Dr. Holst’s 19-year direction with the chorus. Somewhat reminiscent of an Impressionistic masterpiece, the five-movement, contemporary piece featured text from the text of the endearing poetry of Christina Rossetti. Accompanied by softly rustling strings and the gentle, continuous rippling of the piano, brilliant soprano Martha Guth and the chorus proceeded to clearly deliver Rossetti’s beloved lines. Though the tenor and bass sections sounded weak and the sopranos flat during occasions, the overall result proved most satisfying and a fitting tribute to Dr. Holst. Afterwards, as an encore, the chorus proceeded to give a tender rendition of “Baby Bear’s Lament” from Convery’s specially-commissioned children’s piece, “Not About Cheese.” The chorus gently rendered Baby Bear’s emotion-laden, broken-hearted pleas for Goldilocks’ love with perfect intonation and vocal purity, bringing tears to my eyes. Although this work was by far the simplest on the program, its childlike purity both in text and sound resonated with me the most, invoking pleasant childhood memories in my heart.

The highlight of the entire program, however, was the brilliant rendition of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasy featuring outstanding pianist Jeffery Panko. The chorus’ own accompanist, Panko brilliantly rendered all the intricate, hair-raising passages of the piece with gusto, displaying consummate control of the instrument and brilliant musicianship in general. Panko’s fingers deftly skipped and soared across the keyboard, delivering a vast palette of musical effects and emotions from thunderous fortissimo chords to the most subtle pianissimo. His breathtaking efforts were beautifully complemented by the chorus and guest soloists, though the orchestra somewhat seemed to struggle in keeping up with his technical mastery. Yet, through it all, Dr. Holst managed to hold everyone together and create a unified sound that proved most satisfying, quality, and thrilling for a community performance. As I walked out of the concert hall with Panko’s thunderous chords resonating in my body and Guth’s florid voice resonating in my head, I could not help but ponder upon what a wonderful and fitting finale this concert had not only been to the chorus’ season in general, but more so to Dr. Holst’s 19-year direction of the chorus. Well done to all!