Joy, skill shine in wide-ranging compositions

May 06, 1999|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

The Annapolis Chorale had programmed Richard Einhorn's "Voices of Light," to be performed in accompaniment to a silent film about Joan of Arc at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts for its last concert of the season.

But three weeks ago subscribers were notified that a program of mostly sacred music from the 16th to late 20th century would be presented instead in the new Price Auditorium at Severn School in Severna Park.

Chorale director Ernest Green explained that technical problems inherent in producing "Voices of Light" proved so difficult that he decided to postpone the program until next season. Although I had some concern about the Chorale's making such a program change this late, I was happily surprised.

The singers seemed at home in the smaller space, easily moving through their program. And the audience appeared to enjoy being so close to the singers they could observe their expressions and share their joy of singing.

The strings of the Chamber Orchestra also were well-suited to the space, which provided a casual, chamber concert atmosphere for the mostly 20th century music.

The $4.5 million student center and auditorium, dedicated April 24, has superb acoustics and allowed Green, who is music director for Severn's upper school, and the Chorale to do one of the things it does best -- present contemporary, chamber orchestral and choral music.

The program was nicely balanced between instrumental and vocal music by the Chamber Chorale, the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, and the full Annapolis Chorale.

The orchestra gave us the regional premiere of Estonian composer Arvo Part's "Cantus in Memory of Britten" in its program of 20th century works.

Part's "Cantus" is a minimalist work with small musical ideas in infinite variation. It was tremendously moving, with its soft beginning bell sound and simple structure expanding dynamically, punctuated by the recurring bell sound until the piece reached a lovely, full concluding chord.

Other works on the orchestra's program were "Capriol Suite" by Peter Warlock, "Adagio for Strings" by Samuel Barber and "St. Paul's Suite" by Gustav Holst.

In "Capriol Suite," Warlock used 20th century musical language to represent 16th century Elizabethan dances, including a soulful Pavanne and a dramatic Sword Dance with a cello and violin dialogue.

The Chamber Chorus sang selections from Randall Thompson's "Frostiana," a nice combination of 20th century American composer and quintessential American poet, Robert Frost. Selections included the poignant "Road Not Taken," the delightfully upbeat "A Girl's Garden," and the hauntingly lovely "Choose Something Like a Star."

The full chorale sang John Tavener's sublime "Song for Athene," heard by millions who watched Princess Diana's funeral on television in 1997. The "Ave Maria" of three 20th century composers -- Brazilian H. Villa Lobos, German Franz Biebl, and Russian Serge Rachmaninoff -- provided interesting contrasts.

Green, who explained the works to the audience, educates in an entertaining manner, much as David Zinman did at the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra's casual concerts. It made me wish that casual concerts of 20th century chamber and choral music could become a reality for the Annapolis Chorale both at Severn and at Maryland Hall.

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