Singers Are Upbeat With Dubois Oratorio

April 23, 1991|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,Contributing writer

The choral works of late 19th-century French composer Theodore Dubois are a lot like the murals of David and other less-than-first-rate "objets d'art" that take up so much space in the Louvre.

While not particularly memorable for the artistry within, they are passionate, heart-on-the-sleeve, super-charged affairs that are, ultimately, a whole lot of fun to sing and hear. Great music, no, but eminently likable pieces worth doing with all the pizazz a chorus can muster.

In the most upbeat yet relaxed performance of the Arundel Vocal Arts Society I've yet attended, conductor Ava Shield and her singers entered fully into the ingratiating spirit of these French works.

The singers at the Severna Park United Methodist Church Saturday nightwere in good form. They obviously knew the music well and enjoyed itimmensely, being particularly effective in Dubois' (1837-1924) Passion Oratorio, "The Seven Last Words of Christ." Their cries of "Let uscrucify him" and "He is guilty" were bold and dramatic.

Cesar Franck's setting of Psalm 150 was accorded a messy opening by the bassesand altos, but on the whole, the choir sang admirably.

Ava Shields negotiated things quite nicely from the podium. The oratorio's frequent stops, starts and ritardandos were well-handled. There was a suppleness to her beat that was attractive and in line with the Gallic lilt of the music.

Only a slowed-down version of Franck's familiar "Panis Angelicus" seemed a bit out of character.

This concert provided an opportunity to get to know "The Seven Last Words of Christ" which is performed only infrequently.

Dubois employs three soloists: a tenor who narrates in the style of the Evangelist of the Bach Passions; the baritone who utters the words of Jesus and St. Peter; and a soprano who becomes the "Daughter of Zion" and sings lovingly of Jesus' sacrifice. The chorus becomes both the hostile crowd and the throng of faithful believers.

Dubois had an ear that heard clearly what had worked for other composers. There are liberal quotations from Franck and Saint-Saens (or was Saint Saens stealing from Dubois in the "Christmas Oratorio"?) as well as passing references to Rossini andeven J. S. Bach! One tenor solo is strongly reminiscent of the "Cujus Animam" in Rossini's wonderfully tacky "Stabat Mater," and Jesus' "I Am Athirst" is a direct quote from "Es Ist Vollbracht" ("It Is Finished"), Christ's final vocal line in Bach's "St. John's Passion."

But if originality wasn't Dubois' thing, he certainly had a sense of drama that was brought out nicely by Saturday's soloists.

ReginaldAllen brought dignity and humanity to the roles of Jesus and Peter, while Stephen Stokes was an emphatic if occasionally overwrought narrator. His "Into Your Hands I Commend My Soul" was beautiful indeed.

Debra Lawrence's opening words were unintelligible, but she sang sweetly thereafter.

But was I the only one surprised by the society's insistence on performing all these "French masterworks" in English,save the "Panis Angelicus" and Faure's "Tantum Ergo," which were sung appropriately in Latin? We were informed that "the group elected tolimit things to English and Latin."

The dangers of democracy. Ah,well, chacun a son. . . .

No, scratch that. Each one to his own taste.

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