ALTO ANN BERGER gets paid to sing in a local church and in the Baltimore Opera chorus but sings for free in the Baltimore Choral Arts Society. "It's out of pure love" for the singing and the society, she says.
Yesterday, along with William Anderson, Beverly Diaz, Jane Dummer and Elizabeth Elliott -- the five remaining veterans of the society's entire quarter century -- Berger and her 79 other colleagues renewed that love in the 25th seaon's opening concert in the packed Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College. It was a winner.
Tom Hall, artistic director, graciously invited back the society's founder, Theodore ("Theo") Morrison, after nine years to conduct the chorus and orchestra in Mozart's "Vespers" (1780). Then Hall himself directed "Holy Mass" (1796), the fifth of Haydn's six late Masses Choral Arts has done since 1986. Both conductors controlled the 80 voices (and instruments) beautifully, so the pianissimos -- the soft notes -- were as effective as the loud ones and those in-between, the choral equivalent of oil tanker-stopping, starting and turning.
Possibly, Hall's familiarity with the group during the last nine years gave his conducting cues a slight edge to the Haydn in executing a few details. But the audience seemed to love both works equally. In any case, Hall's knee-bending, bouncy style with left fist clutching endings was an interesting contrast to Morrison's pumping arm motions and his active second baton, his pointing left index finger.
Lisa Asher, soprano of many operatic roles, sang the solo part in Psalm 116 in a highlight of Mozart's "Vespers." It's a short section familiar for its calm beauty to many church choirs. With pure tones and expressiveness, Asher performed the slow, quiet passage of the Mozart melody accompanying the Latin words meaning "Praise the Lord, all nations; Praise him all peoples; For great is his steadfast love toward us; and the truth of the Lord endures forever."
Joining her as soloists in "Vespers" were alto Yvette Matthews, a Baltimore native; tenor David Hamilton and James Watson, a bass replacing the ill Edward Crafts. All four were making their Choral Arts debuts. For a Credo segment in Haydn's "Holy Mass" -- a less active home for soloists -- Elizabeth Hrybyk and Stephen Scheinberg sang with the quartet.
The 40-minute Mass held a cornucopia of emotions tha choral-music lover Haydn had summoned for the masses completed one by one late in his life. The soloists and orchestra (more players for the Haydn) eagerly lent their talents but the chorus was in full command through the Mass until finally, in Agnus Dei, the contrasts of strong and soft passages beseeching God concluded with the "grant us peace."
The applause during the under two-hour performance was as warm as the temperature in the hall. At the end, about 55 Choral Arts alumni, alumnae, boards of directors past and present trooped on stage to recognize another old favorite, Handel. They helped sing a nostalgic 135-voice "Hallelujah Chorus" under guest conductor Morrison's baton, Hall singing in the wings and the audience at Morrison's invitation rising to the ritual before the downbeat.
Earlier, Clementine Peterson, "our angel for 25 years," was wished a happy 97th birthday in absentia, and Goucher President Rhoda Dorsey was thanked and in turn said thanks for 25 years of some of the best music Goucher has heard.