Concert Review: March 21, 1949 Boston premiere of Mozart’s C Minor Mass

Mass in C Minor

What may well have been the largest crowd of people that ever got inside Trinity Church in Copley Square (2000 people, according to the sexton, for the 1400 or so seats) had a musical experience last night of so honest and so elevated a character that few are likely to forget it in many years to come.

For the Polyphonic Choir of Christ Church, Cambridge, with soloists, organist and orchestra under the direction of Alfred Nash Patterson, gave the first Boston performance of Mozart’s Great Mass C minor (K. 427), a work that occupies a place in music between and only slightly below that in B minor by Bach and that in D major by Beethoven. And the only reason it is below is because Mozart, so enraptured in his then recent marriage to Constanze, not only never really put his mind to it, but indeed had to complete it (in his usual rush) with movements from previous works.

At its highest level of inspiration, as in the great Qui Tollis in G minor for double chorus, it is nearly overwhelming by the time it arrives at the words “miserere nobis,” while the double fugue In the Osanna might be called a monument to Bach himself. Yet it is anything but severe. Mozart’s religious impulses, sincere though they were, could not hold the fort too long when a musical thought intoxicated him. Thus it would be hard to imagine a more beautifully unliturgical duet than the Domine Deus or a more exquisite romanza than the Et Incarnatus Est for soprano with obligato of flute, oboe, bassoon and muted strings. This last, in fact, will remain with me for some time as one of the highest points of the musical season.

I find it nearly impossible to comment on the performance as I was involved with the contraltos behind the organ and I do not know if the chorus was in balance, or even if the soloists and orchestra were as good as they seemed to me. It may safely stated, however, that this was a very superior and certainly devoted performance with some excellent solo singing by Phyllis Curtin, Eleanor Davis, and Sumner Crockett. Mr. Patterson is to be congratulated not only for giving us this truly sublime music but for doing it so well. But that Mozart could attract standees, not to mention sittees in the pulpit, on stairs and around the chancel rail is the greater wonder. It only goes show, as I’ve suspected all along, that people really do know what’s what.

Published in the Boston Herald, March 22, 1949

(The Polyphonic Choir took the name Chorus pro Musica in September 1949.)