Choral Arts Society packs in the delight

November 11, 1997|By Judith Green | Judith Green,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

To open its 32nd season Sunday, Choral Arts Society invited a whole lot of people on an exploration of contemporary sacred music.

In every sense, the concert was an overflow of riches -- starting with the audience, which packed the 1,000-seat Kraushaar Auditorium at Goucher College. The college's main parking lot filled up before 6: 45 p.m., and the overworked box office had such a crush to contend with that the concert started 15 minutes late.

In addition to the full choir of 95 voices, a 28-piece orchestra and organist Randall Mullin, all under the baton of Tom Hall, the roll call was as follows:

For the Baltimore premiere of three church anthems by Robert Sirota, director of the Peabody Conservatory of Music: a soprano from the choir (Wendy Scheinberg); an oboe (Jane Marvine); and a string quartet.

For Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms": a boy alto (Brandon Derek Kahl, a junior at Patapsco High School in Dundalk); two harps (Mindy Kutcher and Wallace Ford); and five percussionists.

For Benjamin Britten's "St. Nicolas" cantata: the St. David's Episcopal Church boys' choir and guest choristers, conducted by David Riley; piano duo (Eric Conway and Monica Otal); and an extraordinary tenor, Carl Halvorson, singing the difficult title role, which was written for Britten's life partner, Peter Pears.

And, not to be left out, the audience, which joined in on two familiar hymns.

The chorus has a strong, full sound, even in the softest passages, and a beautiful blend. Its diction is as good as choral diction gets, which is to say, I was glad to have the text available in the program -- for the "Chichester Psalms," in both Hebrew and English -- and that the house lights were kept on so we could read it.

The program had not one lesser work.

The Sirota anthems, though small, are elegant and moving testaments to the composer's spiritual journey, as he explained in an interview. "God Is Love" beseeches; "Put On the Armor of Light" affirms; and "How Shall I Repay the Lord?" has forthright Methodist hymnal harmonies and unexpectedly quirky rhythms.

Here's the unanswered question of Baltimore's music scene: Why is there no concert hall with a decent organ in this wealthy and cultured city?

Mullin played an electric Allen organ donated by Jordan Kitt's Music. Though the gesture was kind, the instrument was inadequate to the task.

Choral Arts performs its Christmas concert Dec. 10 at Basilica of the Assumption. Tickets -- already in short supply -- are available by calling 410-523-7070.

Pub Date: 11/11/97

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