15 June 2022
“The Church Music Association. Steinway Hall will present another brilliant appearance to-night at the last concert of this admirable society. The rehearsal yesterday afternoon gave some idea of the musical treat to be offered. The choruses in ‘Oberon’ will be performed in proper style, and not in the slipshod, boisterous manner that marked the operatic representation at the Academy. Beethoven’s Mass in C will also be well interpreted, and the two overtures selected for the evening will command the resources of an orchestra of seventy performers.”
“The first six months of the existence of the Church Music Association were brought to a brilliant close by the concert of last evening. Steinway Hall was crowded on that occasion by an extremely fashionable audience, and much gratification was expressed at the excellence of the performance. That the assemblage was large and the entertainment satisfactory speaks with all needed force for the interest the labors of the Society have excited. Its two objects are, without doubt, worthy of the active encouragement which the singers and the instrumentalists have given during the season just ended, and of the less painstaking, but equally kindly aid of numerous subscribers. Of these two objects, we are told, the first is to ‘keep fresh in the knowledge of the community the great monumental works of the chief masters of religious music, always more or less obscured by ephemeral mists from the reputation of one ‘great’ composer of the day after another.’ The second involves the training of the accomplished amateurs of the City. ‘Many of these,’ we learn, ‘have enlisted in the chorus, and among them are admirable soloists not a few. But among even these, there may be some who had to be told, that ability to sing accurately in a quartet or chorus, is of far higher value than capacity to execute the most brilliant aria. Should the Association prosper and expand for another season or two, it may develop itself into a conservatoire for amateurs; a school that shall train, in the highest art, the élite of our young people.’ The showing of several rehearsals and of the two concerts has afforded evidence, we opine, that the purposes of the Association have been steadfastly looked forward to and pretty clearly discerned throughout. Until now, it is true, no soloists have been brought forth—the singers last night bearing familiar names—but admirable material has been gathered, and many steps have been taken to make it yield a liberal proportion of purest ore. The freshness of voices in the choral masses last evening vouched for the future results of the Society’s work. Absolute precision was not observable in all those parts of the entertainment the choristers took part in, but fair steadiness, the youth of the Association being taken into account, was displayed. The most important piece on the programme, it should be added, was one of exceptional vocal difficulty. Beethoven’s Mass in C is an imaginative work of a high order, and melodious rather than deeply religious. An elaborate opinion of its merits is prefaced by the statement that it belongs to the composer’s second period,’ when his own style was fully matured, and had not yet—if we may venture to say so—run into something like eccentricity.’ It was first performed in 1810, at Eisenstadt, a Summer residence of Beethoven’s patron, Prince Paul Esterhazy, to whom it was to have been dedicated. But the Prince made some slighting remark about the composition, after its performance, and, what was worse than all, in the hearing of his Kapell-Meister, Hummel, and this was not forgiven till Beethoven was on his deathbed. The mass in C was interpreted yesterday for the first time in this country [this is untrue; Music in Gotham records two earlier performances of the mass, one each in 1868 and 1869]. We do not think it will have frequent repetition. The solos were exceedingly well sung of Mme. Salvotti, Mrs. Jennie Kempton, Mrs. Imogene Brown, Miss Jennie E. Bull, Mr. W. J. Hill, Mr. Wm. S. Leggat, and Mr. Joseph Jewett, and the choral portions were executed with sufficient unanimity to make a fair estimate of the impressiveness of the work attainable; but the solemnity of the church was wanting to music by no means as characteristic, to our mind, as the opinion above referred to would imply [sic], and for tunefulness it will not replace in the concert-room either Haydn or Mozart. As a specimen of Beethoven’s least known style, though, the hearing of the mass was at least acceptable. The second part of the bill was of wider interest. It included the overture and the larger share of the music of the third act of ‘Oberon.’ The instrumental prologue to Weber’s opera was admirably recited by the orchestra, which, by the way, interpreted with equal energy, correctness and nice appreciation of shading Berthold’s Jubel Overture; and after it was ended the vocal numbers were given by the artists who have been named already. The prayer, ‘Ruler of this Awful Hour,’ was sung with especial sentiment by Mr. Leggat, and the scena ed aria, in which Mme. Parepa-Rosa’s grand voice and broad style but a few nights ago gave birth to a demonstration of approval akin to enthusiasm, was invested with unusual charm and relative might by the sympathetic voice and intelligent delivery of Mrs. Imogene Brown. It is only necessary to supplement this notice, with the record that Dr. James Pech, to whose industry and talent the Church Music Association owes its present position and actual efficiency, crowned the toils of the season by conducting from the outset to the conclusion a very successful concert.”
“The very best phases of the educated and cultured element of New York society were represented at the superb concert which last night, at Steinway Hall, brought to a close the first season of the Church Music Association. To this organization we have previously frequently alluded. In a few months, despite opposition, both active and inert, and despite of the mistaken view of management which characterized its earlier history, the association has achieved a success which already gives it an enviable place in the musical history of the metropolis. A few liberal and artistically-minded citizens, urged on from mere impulse to decided action, by an industrious and indefatigable musical conductor, have succeeded in producing a musical society which sings Beethoven, Weber and Mozart better than any similar organization among us. There is no doubt that the Church Music Association is leaving far in the rear our other musical societies. Really, there is no antagonism between the new and the old organizations; but the latter certainly must wake up if they wish to retain their reputation.
“The concert of last night was judged by many present to have been the most successful of the season, and some enthusiastic amateurs went so far as to say that it was the finest choral concert ever given in Steinway Hall. The programme was of a higher class than that of the two preceding concerts; at least it was as much more difficult of comprehension as Beethoven is more difficult than Haydn or Mozart. The mass in C of the Titan, as the Germans love to call Beethoven, was the principal feature of last night’s programme, and, we believe, has never before been given entire here. It is a grand, majestic work, replete with great effects, rich in harmony, but almost entirely destitute of the sustained melodies of Mozart, Haydn, or of later church composers. The chorus writing is predominant throughout, and amid it is interwoven the few passages for solo voices.
“Without any preliminary instrumentation, the Mass opens with the basses on the tonic leading immediately to a choral andante. After a few bars for the solo voices the chorus is resumed though practically in another key, and at the end of the Kyrie its opening theme is repeated. The Excelsis is bold and striking, with a fugue passage on the words bonae voluntatis. In the Qui tollis the contralto gives out the theme in a few solo bars. The Cum spiritu sancto is a fugue in which the basses lead off. In parts of the Credo the composer seems to flag, but he produces a superb effect at the words Qui propter nos homines et propter nostrum salutam descendit de cœlis—the word descendit repeated antiphonally, as it were, by the male and female voices, fortissimo. In the Incarnatus there is some difficult and exquisite vocalization, the chromatic passage on the words Sul Pontio Pilato generally wrecking the careless singer. In the Et resurrexit the composer reverts to the fugue again, the accompaniment being varied by triplets. Et vitam venture is another difficult fugue. The Sanctus is an exquisite composition, opening with melodious, unaccompanied passages, leading to a brief and intricate but decidedly uninteresting fugue. In the Benedictus there are some very masterly passages for four solo voices, with full chorus. The Agnus Dei is a chorus rather remarkable for its orchestration, and for a suggestion of a melodic flow arising from the use of triple time. The Mass closes with the theme that forms its opening page.
“This elaborate work was given last night in good style. To point out the occasional defects in the chorus singing—for instance, the one occasion where a female voice gave a timid chirp during a rest, or where the basses not being ready come near wrecking a fugue—would be hypercritical. The professional assistance which had been secured for previous concerts was done away with, and the male voices missed this aid more than the female. The tenors were not always as prompt as they ought to have been, and now and then a basso perished miserably in a quagmire of chromatics. But the ladies sang as freshly and as beautifully as they looked, and as a whole the general effect of the full chorus was superb.
“In the ‘Oberon’ music the ladies had it almost to themselves, and gave the choruses of the later acts of the opera with a grace, lightness, and at the same time a richness of tone that were most delicious, and of which those who have only heard Oberon with the chorus of English opera troupe, can form no idea. In ‘Oberon,’ too, Mr. Leggat made a pleasant impression by his singing of the prayer, and Mrs. Imogene Brown gave the ‘Ocean’ scene with good effect. Miss Bull and Madame Salvotti also deserve favorable mention. In the Mass this latter lady, with Mrs. Kempton—who sang especially well—and Messrs. Hill and Jewett, were the soloists. In the ‘Oberon’ there were several omissions, necessary by reason of the length of the opera; but the audience could have better spared something else than the duet between Fatima and Sherasmin, which, though perhaps a little trivial, always pleasantly tickles the ear.
“Dr. Pech, the conductor of the society, filled his position with ability and grace. Under his baton the ‘Oberon’ overture was given with a spirit and effect that made it almost a new revelation; while his watchful oversight saved both chorus and soloists more than once from ‘dashing their feet against the stones’ of Weber’s and Beethoven’s music. We expect that next season to Dr. Pech and the Church Music Association we shall owe some of the best music of the period.”
“Two societies have given their final concerts of the season during the present week; both of them are composed of amateurs, and both have undertaken works of the greatest difficulty, the one in English music, the other in German. We refer to the Madrigal Society, under the able direction of Dr. Brown, and the Church Music Association, led by Dr. Pech. Both these societies have upheld and advanced the standard of musical taste. The former did its work more perfectly…
“Dr. Pech has had a most difficult position to fill. It is not easy to hold a chorus such as his together. As a general rule, volunteers are not much to be depended on. The Sanitary Commission at the outset of the war found that those who came into its ranks without compensation usually were of more harm than good. They assumed a certain independence of authority by virtue of not receiving any compensation. The Commission accordingly turned them out, and refused to accept any services except such as they paid for. Dr. Pech has a chorus of fashionable amateurs who have come to rehearsals when they felt like it, and when no other engagement interfered. The marvel is, that when it came to the point of performance they succeeded as well as they did.
“It is to be hoped that both these societies will preserve their organization, and continue next winter the excellent work that they have set on foot during the past one. There is scarcely a doubt that the Church Music Association will hold together. Already some four thousand dollars of subscriptions have been received for next winter. The Society gives an opportunity to musically inclined ladies and gentlemen to sing in chorus before a select and friendly audience in the noblest forms of compositions of the great masters; and one of the highest pleasures of a vocalist is to feel the support and swing of a multitude of voices in the same part, and the powerful support of an orchestra sustaining, embellishing, and ornamenting the vocal parts. There is not only no kindred organization and none that affords the same advantages in any other city, but there is none whatsoever that gives mass music. This is a field that the Church Music Association has quite to itself. It is also one to which the great composers have given their most fervent efforts.”
“The closing concert of the Church Music Association last week was a brilliant success. The Oberon part of the programme was particularly excellent, and Dr. James Peck [sic] deserves much praise for his artistic spirit and enterprise in conducting these concerts to such a desirable conclusion.”