Friday evening Dec. 17 at 7:30 p.m. the Oriana Singers and the New York Chamber Soloists Orchestra, both under the direction of conductor William Metcalfe presented an all-Bach concert entitled: Bach: Christmas Ornaments: Music of Genius for a Festive Season by Johann Sebastian Bach. The concert took place at College Street Congregational Church in downtown Burlington.
The sold-out concert opened with Motet VI, Lobet den Herrn (BWV 230) for chorus and strings. The precision of the chorus in the opening measures set expectations high for the quality of performance the audience was going to enjoy. The entire motet bubbled over with with bright sound, well-executed melismata, and the final alleluia filled the church.
The Concerto in D minor for two violins and strings (BWV 1043), its three movements marked vivace, largo ma non tanto, and allegro was performed by Curtis Macomber and Emily Popham. Tempi were quick and precise, the largo wonderfully lyrical, the final allegro taken at a tempo that reflected the last movement of the motet which preceded it.
The balance of the first half of the program was occupied with Cantata 51, Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen (BWV 51) for soprano, trumpet, and strings. The soloists were Jane Snyder, soprano, and James Duncan, trumpet. Snyder sang well in the broad sense of the term, but her performance could be even more admirable if she paid more attention to melodic leading (by which I mean to take into consideration where the line is going to end up, so that she can vocally surprise the audience as to where the key change has taken the music, not be herself surprised - as at least one time she failed to do; it is a very subtle but important factor in the performance of any music). She clearly has the necessary basic voice for this literature, but it has not yet bloomed into anything like the voice that is clearly available to her. Duncan produces a marvelous sound on his trumpet. He is capable of matching the string sound and the soprano sound as well. He also produces a wonderfully melodic sound, and of him it would never be said that he overbalanced whoever the other soloists were. His trills are clean and crisp and both here in this cantata and wherever else he played through the balance of the program, the same praise is due him.
Selections from the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248) opened the concert after intermission with the chorus Ehre sei dir, Gott, gesungen, the music admirably executed by the Oriana Singers.
Jill Levis, mezzo soprano and Gary Moreau, bass, stepped forward from the ranks of the Singers: Levis sang the aria Schliesse, mein Herze. And then Moreau sang the aria Herr, o starker Koenig partnered by Duncan. These two veterans command a wide range of abilities that make theme highly sought after as soloists and as teachers. Levis in particular has made private voice lessons as a means of fostering talent; Moreau has been an elementary school music teacher and more recently has taken over the directorship of The Vermont Choral Union. His ability to sing long melismatic passages is legendary. They and Stephanie Maslack, soprano, sang the solo parts in Cantata 140 Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme (BWV 140) 3rd. Before he began the cantata, Metcalfe invited the audience to rehearse the final chorale, and he invited everyone to sing. Once rehearsal was successfully completed, the cantata began, also successfully.
The final chorus was a decidedly festive choice: Nun seid ihr wohl gerochen (from BWV 248). It was a wonderful send off into the everyday world in which the new moon was beginning to show her subtle control over our lives. An excellent concert indeed!
The Vermont Choral Union
COLCHESTER - Saturday evening I ventured to St. Michael's College in Colchester, to the McCarthy Arts Center. Although I have heard good things about the repertoire ( I was astounded at the repertoire Gary Moreau, a well known soloist in Vermont had presented several years back), I have never been able to make one of their concert dates. So I was present at 7:30 p.m. to hear confirmation with my own ears what he was doing with the Vermont Choral Union.
The first gesture I made was to open the program. What I saw pleased me. The title of the concert was "Ave Maria": Works dedicated to the Blessed Virgin. There is a great deal of literature written down through the ages to celebrate Mary, and it is especially around advent and throughout the Christmas season.. What Moreau had assembled looked to me was going to be a fascinating evening of listening to choral music, which it turned out to be.
The concert opened with two works by William Byrd(1550-1594), Tollite portas and Ave Maria and from there into two works by Giovanni Pierluigi.da Palestrina (1543-1623), Alma Redemptoris Mater and Benedixisti Domine. Two settings of the text Beata es, Virgo Maria followed, the first by Jacob Handl (ca. 1526-1594), seconded by Giovanni Gabrieli, the latter for two choirs.
They were hymns originally in English and one that was a translation of a hymn by Edvard Grieg (1843-1867). Of those pieces set to English texts, my far and away favorite is Peter Warlock's Bethlehem Down (1896-1930)..
The concert ended with three Latin motets, one each by Handl, Palestrina and Jean Mouton (ca. 1459-1522).
The concert realized the music chosen extremely well. Moreau had done an exemplary of preparation, and he seemed to know how to get the community chorus to do its very best work the for him. The Chorus in general produced clear sound because there was no excessive vibrato in any one of the sections or in any individual voices that disturbed the appropriate sounds, and by appropriate I mean appropriate to the music. Moreau possesses a baritone voice that he uses so easily that one would think that all people must be able to sing that way, which, unfortunately is not the case. This must rub off especially to the male singers, but also to the female, and I'm sure it goes a long way to giving confidence to the chorus.
I was particularly gratified to hear the hymn by Edvard Grieg because it was so unfamiliar and should be considered by directors who are looking for unfamiliar material by classic composers. As a proof that a double choir work such as the Gabrieli can be done successfully by a small but attentive choir, the group did quite a good job with the one by Gabrieli.
It was an exhilarating concert in the conception that Moreau had, The Vermont Choral Union did their very best to realize the concept into reality. I truly enjoyed it.
Burlington resident Dan Wolfe observes and critiques the local arts scene for the Times Sentinel. His column appears