The concert began with Beethoven's Mass in C, a major work from the middle of his career (about the time of the Pastorale Symphony) that's been overshadowed by Beethoven's only other mass, the late, demonic Missa solemnis. The C-major Mass is tender, sunnier, more pastoral. Why was it on this Britten program? I'm not sure, and Hoose's loving program note doesn't deal with the question. Yet it worked, especially as it and another choral piece not by Britten, Gerald Finzi's Lo, the Full, Final Sacrifice, bracketed the mordant, churning, earth-and-water-laden Death in Venice music with their spiritual affirmations. The performance was tenderly fervent, celebratory, solemn without heaviness. The excellent quartet of vocal soloists included tenor Stephen Williams, baritone Dana Whiteside, soprano Karyl Ryczek, and, in particularly fine fettle, mezzo-soprano Lynn Torgove. Bruce Creditor played a gently consoling clarinet solo in the Agnus Dei, and that led to the hushed woodwind close.
The Finzi, a real rarity, dates from 1946, just after the war. The "full, final sacrifice" is Jesus's — the text is the 17th-century Catholic metaphysical poet Richard Crashaw's touching translation of two Aquinas hymns ("call if you can/Harps of heaven to hands of man"). But the sacrifice is also contemporary. It was commissioned by the same minister who commissioned Britten's wondrous wartime Rejoice in the Lamb (which was on the January Britten program) and, later, Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. The music is brooding, murmuring, insinuating, searching, and with its own quiet beauty. Finzi died in 1956, at the age of 55.
Hoose dedicated this performance to the memory of the late Michael Shannon, a long-time supporter of the Cantata Singers. He was the first African-American professor of pediatrics at the Harvard Medical School and the former head of emergency medicine at Children's Hospital, and also a professional dancer (he appeared in Boston's Black Nativity and Urban Nutcracker) and the choreographer of the Cantata Singers' recent performance of Britten's "community opera" Noye's Fludde. He died suddenly on March 10, at the age of 55.