By Lawrence Budmen

One of the most eagerly anticipated events of last fall’s Festival Miami was the East Coast premiere of David Maslanka’s Mass. In the aftermath of Hurricane Wilma the performance was postponed. This massive work was finally presented on Friday at UM Gusman Concert Hall and the results certainly covered the students and faculty of the UM Frost School of Music with glory. 

There was much to admire in Maslanka’s skillfully crafted, listener friendly score. The composer is not lacking in ambition. His nearly two hour opus is scored for double chorus, children’s chorus, soprano and baritone soloists, and wind ensemble. 

Mass is a work of intense sincerity and generosity of expression. Individual sections are striking in their melodic facility or instrumental invention. Ultimately the score is more ornamental than communicative; more flashy artifice than moving testament. 

Maslanka creates some beautiful vocal-instrumental combinations. Throughout the score two flutes produce exquisite sounds – aural visions of heaven. The soprano solo “Bright window” is a quasi-operatic aria reminiscent of Samuel Barber’s vocal works with a hint of Dvorak in the pastel wind writing. “Sophia, when you call me” is an expressive baritone solo in the intimate manner of Benjamin Britten’s Serenade (supported by tinkling mallet percussion). 

Maslanka’s choral writing runs the gamut from an ecclesiastical version of Carl Orff to the Stravinsky of Symphony of Psalms, the Hollywood choral technicolor of John Williams, and the multi-cultural patina of Osvaldo Golijov. Dona Nobis Pacem has a pop music sensibility. (David Fanshawe used a similar crossover approach with greater simplicity and effectiveness in the finale of his African Sanctus.) The children’s choir seems grafted onto the score. 

Gary Green, a long time champion of Maslanka’s music, conducted a masterful performance. The Frost Wind Ensemble played the difficult, high pitched score with fervent commitment. Brilliant, vociferous singing emanated from the massive choral forces and ethereal sounds from the Miami Children’s Choir. Janice Chandler-Eteme’s sweet, lustrous soprano was particularly impressive in the high register. Jeff Morrissey brought a warm, robust voice to the baritone solos. Despite the score’s flaws, this performance was an impressive achievement. 

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