The Charlestown Chapel is one of Baltimore's jewels. Its interior is of exquisite Carrara marble. The mosaics, stained glass and inlaid stones are further ornaments. The nave reaches 48 feet and dome, 68 feet. Though still owned by the Sulpician Fathers, it is an ecumenical house of worship in the Charlestown Retirement Community in Catonsville,
Only 55 feet wide and 140 feet long, the building, however, is not a cathedral but a chapel and thus an acoustic wonder. So last night when soprano Linda Dykstra warmly sang the Agnus Dei solo in Mozart's "Coronation Mass" with the Maryland Camerata, the notes came out purely and seemed to carry to everyone in the appreciative full house.
Backing her was the rich sound of the augmented Camerata of 40 singers and the Harmonia Orchestra, led by conductor Samuel Gordon. It was a stirring finale to a short yet complete program of Mozart and Haydn in the new sacred chamber music series of the University of Maryland Baltimore County.
The "Evening Song," as the program was called, was a harmonious union of composers, musicians, architecture and the spirit and rapt audience of mostly older music-lovers. When they left people could continue the mood by seeing pretty downtown Baltimore lights from the hilltop that some local residents still call Cloud Cap.
But back to the music. Interestingly, it lasted only 75 minutes with a 10-minute break. As Baltimore concerts go, that's a 100-yard -- but it was exciting. Maybe more music directors should take the cue. The seasoned Maryland Camerata, back from a European concert this summer, has itself become a small gem since Gordon founded it 15 years ago. Beverly Benso is co-artistic director of the series.
Gordon led a sharply prepared group of singers and, most of the time, instrumentalists. A few times the string sounds seemed less than smooth.
The Camerata's 30 regular voices began the evening by singing Mozart's short motet, or church anthem, "Ave verum corpus" with string accompaniment. Then soprano Lisa Corbett confidently sang in German a bright Advent cantilena, a song with string accompaniment, inspired by a folk song in the custom of Haydn's day. Corbett sustained the intensity of the lengthy, bright solo "Ein Magd, ein Dienerin."
Haydn's "Salve Regina" was another religious choral work, but characterized by antiphonal singing, groups answering each other, even organ and strings. The four soloists singing with poise were alto Janice Jackson, baritone Robert Kennedy, tenor Raymond Aparentado and soprano Sandra Nelson. The organist was James Dale.
Soprano Dykstra and tenor Charles Richardson led the soloists with authority in the first sections of Mozart's "Coronation Mass," followed by Jackson and Kennedy. All four were on the mark. Dykstra, with the juiciest part, sang as though she was in an opera rather than a church -- emotion on her face and in her carriage as well as passion in her voice, and it was welcome.
Overall, the evening at Cloud Cap was a satisfying team effort.