Beautiful music and good cause come together at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Northampton, this Sunday evening at 7:30 in a program called “Eternal Light” (Facebook page here). That’s the English translation of “Lux Aeterna,” a communion antiphon from the Catholic Requiem Mass (Mass for the dead), and the title of a 1997 choral work, based on diverse Latin texts, by the American composer Morten Lauridsen. Sacred in inspiration but well-nigh sinful in melodic and harmonic lushness, Lauridsen’s “Lux Aeterna” is one of the closest things classical music has had to a “hit” in many a year. And while excessive consumption of such music may lead to unexpected consequences, such as an uncontrollable desire to play your old Ramones records really loud, in moderation, it’s wonderful musical comfort food.
The other principal work on the program is, while also spiritually exalted, more earthly in tone and content. Composed in 1943 for the 50th anniversary of the consecration of St. Matthew’s Church in Northampton — Northampton, England, that is — Benjamin Britten‘s “Rejoice in the Lamb” sets a series of bizarre, visionary passages from Christopher Smart‘s “Jubilate Agno,” written while the English poet was confined to an asylum. A tour de force of seemingly offhand compositional mastery, with its myriad styles and innumerable deft touches, “Rejoice in the Lamb” is one of the works that could lead one to conclude that, among classical composers, Britten was unmatched for settings of the English language. The tasty organ writing will also give us a chance to enjoy St. John’s fine instrument, as well as the artistry of Smith College’s superb organist, Grant Moss.
Also on the program is German composer Franz Biebl‘s “Ave Maria,” one the best-known 20th-century examples of the innumerable musical renderings of the “Hail Mary” text.
The Illuminati Vocal Ensemble, made up of several of the Pioneer Valley’s choral-singing luminaries, will be conducted by Tony Thornton, director of choral activities at UMass Amherst. For The Wife and me, it will be the second part of a day-night musical doubleheader, beginning at 4:00 (pre-game show at 3) at Smith College with the Jupiter String Quartet‘s concert of Beethoven and Bartók. Disclosure: The quartet concert is presented by Music In Deerfield, of which I am “artistic director,” i.e., music picker-outer. Too much music? No such thing. I hope to see you at either or both.