“Peace on Earth” (12/2/2011)
MUSIC REVIEW: BLOOMINGTON CHAMBER SINGERS
Varied ‘Peace on Earth’ provided a revelation
December 5, 2011
The program was titled “Peace on Earth, Music of the Season.” As given by the Bloomington Chamber Singers, it attracted a capacity crowd to the First United Methodist Church on Friday evening. And from pre-concert brass exhortations by the likes of Monteverdi, Palestrina, Praetorius and Gabrieli, all written about 400 years ago, to concert’s end, the last notes of the 20th century chorale “Friede auf Erden” (“Peace on Earth”) by Arnold Schoenberg, the music proved a revelation.
The ensemble’s music director, Gerald Sousa, had pieced together a remarkably varied bill of fare that, nevertheless, as a package carried out the seasonal theme of “Peace on Earth.”
As one listened to this well-trained local chorus of singers from all walks of life, a response of awe kept cropping up that 70 members, each busy with the concerns of professional and everyday existence, had devoted so much time and emotional energy to prepare this gift of music, while also getting ready for the annual “Messiah Sing” on Dec. 11 and a performance of Beethoven’s challenging “Missa Solemnis” next April.
Credit their loyalty and credit Sousa, their committed leader. As a team, they once again rose to the occasion: first in more music by Praetorius, the familiar and favored “In dulci jubilo,” and Gabrieli, a soaring “O magnum mysterium” with countertenor Brennan Hall blending angelically from the balcony and, additionally, both an exultation (“Hodie Christus natus est,” “Today Christ is born”) and a benediction. The benediction, “In ecclesiis,” asked for solo contributions, here supplied by four sweetly-voiced guests from the Jacobs School: soprano Arwen Myers, tenor Asitha Tennekoon, bass-baritone Gavin Hayes, and, again, Hall.
The concert’s first half concluded with one of Bach’s most admired cantatas, “Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme” (“Awake, calls the voice to us”), a joyous work that brought well crafted and flexible sound from the chorus and notable contributions in arias and recitatives from Myers, Tennekoon and Hayes. Throughout, organist Gregory Geehern and varying combinations of instrumentalists completed scoring requirements.
Geehern was particularly important in the post-intermission surprise, the “Son of God Mass,” written in 2001 by the British composer James Whitbourn, an astoundingly beautiful and intense composition that matches organ, chorus, and, of all things, soprano saxophone.
The combination turned out to be magical. Supporting words of love, of happiness, of grief, of hope, the saxophone, much like a pure-voiced and passionate soprano, tonally beseeched, prayed and hauntingly raised emotional fervor. Keegan White, who makes his living as director of bands at Eastern Greene Schools, was nothing short of wonderful on his sax; his performance was flawless and penetratingly soulful.
Guided by conductor Sousa, the Chamber Singers added hushes and hallelujahs reverentially and in adroit fashion.
The concert ended with Schoenberg’s 1907 cry for a better world, “Friede auf Erden,” the composer’s last work shaped in the harmonic style that had suffused music for centuries. He would thereafter explore a 12-tone world. But this 10-minute cantata — close to lyrical when the focus in the text is on peace and good will, close to atonal when strife and evil hold sway — adheres, in both form and polyphony, to what for so long had been. Conductor, chorus and orchestra gave the work a sumptuous and stirring treatment.
Copyright: HeraldTimesOnline.com 2011