St. Anne's audience surrounded with glorious sound

March 27, 1997|By Mary P. Johnson | Mary P. Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Imagine hearing a 100-voice chorus at the center altar, a 50-voice chorus to the left, a brass orchestra to the right and a pipe organ at the rear of St. Anne's Episcopal Church in Annapolis.

This is surround sound as it is meant to be -- live. Saturday evening, J. Ernest Green led the Annapolis Chorale and Chamber Chorus, along with members of the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, in a program of music written for such large, reverberant spaces.

Included were the 16th-century music of Palestrina and Andrea and Giovanni Gabrieli and the 20th-century music of Samuel Barber, Henryk Gorecki, Heitor Villa-Lobos and Arvo Part.

Several works for double and triple choirs were sung in an antiphonal style, with groups of singers in different places around the sanctuary to answer one another.

The Annapolis Chamber Orchestra opened the program with a brass quintet. The music was sonorous in one section and softly echoed in return.

In Giovanni Gabrieli's motet "Surrexit Christus (Christ is Risen)," we heard the chorale with four trumpets and four trombones. This was exultant music on a grand scale, designed for huge, 16th-century cathedrals. To hear it on Palm Sunday Eve heightened one's awareness of the composer's ability to convey the period's religious fervor.

Villa-Lobos' "Ave Maria" illustrates that even with this frequently set text, this Brazilian composer was able to build intensity by effectively using melody. Here, vocal harmony produced a full orchestral sound.

The chamber chorus achieved a brilliant sound in Barber's "Agnus Dei," the choral version of his "Adagio for Strings." The choral version seemed the more vibrant, a result, perhaps, of Barber's gift for lyricism.

It was gratifying that Green and the chorale introduced the works of Gorecki and Part. The chorale displayed superb musicianship and dedication in performing such works. And could another director surpass Green's exuberance and loving perfectionism? It's doubtful.

Gorecki's "Totus tuus" is a dissonant work of complex harmonies with the word "Maria" repeated perhaps 100 times with varying intensity and shading, ranging from supplicant to reverent, from lovely to achingly beautiful. The repetitions convinced me that Leonard Bernstein and Stephen Sondheim, who composed the songs for "West Side Story," were right; Maria is "the most beautiful sound in a single word."

Part's "Magnificat" demands unrelenting concentration because it is unforgiving. As tonal groups alternate, a rivalry in vocal beauty occurs. The sustained dissonance builds dramatic tension, later relieved in a deceptively simple harmony. The "Magnificat" has a grandeur and majesty capable of inspiring reverence in the listener.

At St. Anne's Church, "Music for a Great Space" created the desire for expansion of the listeners' souls.

Pub Date: 3/27/97

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