Nice performances, with flaws

Concerts: Despite a few false notes, the Annapolis Chorale and Chamber Chorus did some excellent work Friday and Saturday nights.


Arundel Live

March 23, 2000|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

I spent much of last weekend in the company of J. Ernest Green and his Annapolis Chorale and, despite some discordant moments, had a very nice time.

On Friday evening, the Chorale and Chamber Chorus presented a "Music of the Millennium" concert featuring choral masterpieces inspired by the Virgin Mary. This is a cappella repertoire that the singers don't get to perform that often, and they seemed pleased to be able to share it.

The performance started off nicely, with lovely accounts of the Lassus "Adoramus te Christe" and Palestrina's celestial "O Bone Jesu," which was made all the more glorious by the sweet sounds emanating from the alto section.

The most incandescent moments of all came in back-to-back "Ave Marias" by Jacques Arcadelt and Heitor Villa-Lobos; the former a shimmering, spellbinding Renaissance motet, and the latter a haunting, exotic affair crafted by Brazil's 20th-century master.

Less convincing was the chorale's foray into the deeply spiritual choral minimalism of John Tavener, and its rendition of the exquisite "Ave Maria" of Franz Biebl. It sounded as if everyone was so intent on pointing up the differences between the Renaissance idiom and this more contemporary fare that the modern pieces lost much of the intimacy and restraint that link them to that earlier era.

When those great washes of sound we hear in Tavener and Biebl are glaring and out of tune, something has gone awry.

On Saturday evening, the Chorale gave us a reconstructed version of J. S. Bach's fragmentary "Passion According to St. Mark," composed in 1731 and lost to posterity shortly thereafter. Only the choruses, chorales and solo arias were included, as Green presented the work stripped of the recitative narratives a Passion would usually include.

This was no great loss since nobody knows if Bach composed them anyway. Whatever the work's fuzzy ancestry, Saturday's realization was worthy of the composer's authentic genius, even if the occasional harmony in the soprano aria, "Falsche Welt," seemed more redolent of P. D. Q. Bach than of the great J. S.

The opening and closing choruses delivered by the Chamber Choir were properly dramatic and solemn, and when the full complement of singers joined in for those inimitable Bach chorales, the effect was electrifying. Alas, the solo work was variable in the extreme.

Soprano Carolene Winter continues to be a delight in the baroque repertoire, spinning out long, beautiful lines while caressing each syllable of German.

Would that Winter had been assigned all four soprano interludes, for Elizabeth Palmieri's pretty voice wasn't enough to overcome pedestrian phrasing and fuzzy intonation in the second of her two arias, and some poor pronunciation.

And the less said about the tenor, the better. The poor fellow was off pitch, well out of his range, and hopelessly lost at nearly every cadence. I felt terrible for him.

A strongly characterized "Jesu, meine Freude" motet from the Chamber Choir completed the program. Except for some raw, out-of-tune bleating from the tenor section, the glory that is Bach came through loud and clear.

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