Ensemble closes season with a thoughtful meditation on dying

There are many approaches to the concept of mortality, from John Donne’s “Death Be Not Proud” to Dylan Thomas’ exhortation to “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”

At the beginning of the Memorial Day weekend, the Kansas City Chorale presented a viewpoint of meditative introspection and gentle release. This multiple Grammy Award-winning ensemble, conducted by artistic director Charles Bruffy, ended its 31st season on Friday evening with a concert in Helzberg Hall.

The performance utilized the hall’s magnificent Casavant organ. Jan Kraybill, who is conservator of the instrument and therefore particularly familiar with it, opened with Marcel Dupré’s virtuosic solo Prelude and Fugue in G minor, Op. 7, No. 3.

The work began pianissimo, with muted yet continuously complex lines under a sustained melody played on the pedals. There was a hint of foreboding density, and she unleashed the pipes during the fugue, ending with an awesome final cadence.

The remainder of the program consisted of works for chorus and organ from 20th-century composers who looked to sacred and historical traditions for their inspiration. The ensemble was in the choir loft for the first two pieces, under the impressive backdrop of the organ’s pipes.

Arvo Pärt’s “The Beatitudes” had a quiet, almost treacherous, opening, with a deceptively simple melody of repeated intervals and resonant dissonances. The low, sustained tones of the organ accompaniment broke into a joyful coda after the chorus’s climactic “amen.”

Benjamin Britten set the work of 18th-century poet Christopher Smart, written while he was in an insane asylum for religious mania, for “Rejoice in the Lamb.” A variety of emotions and personalities emerged in the piece, ranging from jubilant to plaintive, rousing to pensive, aided by the soloists’ sincere interpretations.

The final portion of the concert featured Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem. He based the work on the chants of the Gregorian Requiem Mass but combined these with polyphonic techniques, lustrous, shimmering harmonies and long, elegant stresses on the text.

The ensemble presented the work beautifully, especially the Sanctus and Lux Aeterna. Bryan Taylor and Julia Scozzafava offered passionate, pleading solos.

The work, while dramatic in moments, avoided a traumatic treatment to the Day of Judgment, instead offering a contemplative approach by considering death as eternal rest, not punishment.

Following in this theme, the performance ended with an encore of René Clausen’s “Set Me As a Seal,” emphasizing the text “love is strong as death,” an encouraging send-off sentiment.

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