Touring children's choir stays on a high note

Arundel Live

October 18, 2001|By Phil Greenfield | By Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

It wasn't my intention to review the Children's Choir of Bratislava, an ensemble of 23 young singers from Slovakia who visited the Annapolis area last weekend.

The kids, after all, weren't attached to any concert series, and their visit was a quick one. They arrived jet-lagged from Amsterdam, Netherlands, on Friday evening, gave a concert at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Arnold on Saturday afternoon and a repeat performance of the 90-minute program at Annapolis High School that evening.

On Sunday, they left for Salt Lake City, where they have spent this week singing in festivities celebrating the 2002 Winter Olympics.

But I was so taken by what I saw and heard from these young musicians that a report is in order.

To begin with, this was a highly pedigreed outfit. Entering its 40th year of concertizing, the Children's Choir is one of Europe's finest choral groups. Directed by Elana Sarayova and her son, Ondrej Saray, both of whom accompanied the singers to Annapolis, the chorus has performed with the Slovak Philharmonic, the Opera House of the Slovak National Theatre and many other ensembles of Eastern Europe.

This choir of treble voices also has made it into the recording studios of Sony, Decca and the BBC, while winning a host of national and international awards for excellence in repertoire ranging from Renaissance motets to folk songs from Slovakia and around the world.

Despite obvious fatigue and the hustle and bustle of the on-tour environment, that excellence was on display at both of Saturday's concerts.

Immense charm was accorded ethnically charged songs such as "Eugen Suchon," an ode to the Slovak nation, and the bouncy, percussive "Slovak Tango" whipped up by Igor Bazlik, a composer who is one of the choir's piano accompanists.

From the standard repertoire, there was a bright, lyrical arrangement of Giuseppe Giordani's well-traveled "Caro mio ben," a deeply felt version of Pablo Casals' beautiful "Nigra sum" and a rather detached but still attractive "Ave verum corpus" of Mozart.

Heartstrings were tugged even more by the American songs that dotted the program; spirituals such as "Steal Away to Jesus," "Babylon's Fallin'," the traditional "Heaven Is a Wonderful Place" and Leonard Bernstein's "I Feel Pretty" especially.

Donations taken at each concert were directed toward the Twin Towers Orphan Fund, a trust account for children who lost their parents in the Sept. 11 attacks.

Before the evening concert, Annapolis Mayor Dean L. Johnson spoke movingly about music's power to heal the spirit.

As the concert ended, Igor Otcen, cultural counselor from the Slovakian Embassy in Washington, looked on with pride as a delightful group of youngsters from Fowler's Methodist Church in Annapolis presented each of the visitors with hugs and an American flag.

"May God bless the Republic of Slovakia and the United States," he told the enchanted audience.

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