Cantare scores on the road

Columbia chorus hits right notes in concert with Baltimore choir

March 28, 2002|By Phil Greenfield | Phil Greenfield,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

If you didn't follow Frances Motyca Dawson's Columbia Pro Cantare Chorus up to Baltimore on Sunday to hear it join with the choir of Baltimore's 2nd Presbyterian Church for an afternoon of music by Durufle, Walton, Stanford, and Rubbra, you missed something special on two counts.

First, it was a lovely program - a set of sacred English choral songs preparing the way for the suave, luminous Requiem Mass composed by France's Maurice Durufle.

The second thrill was hearing Pro Cantare at work outside the cold, murky sonics of Jim Rouse Theatre. North Baltimore's 2nd Presbyterian Church is a graceful, light-filled setting for great music with Ionic columns, a canopied organ and a cool but resonant space all nicely attuned to the likes of Edmund Rubbra, William Walton, Charles Villiers Stanford and Maurice Durufle.

What a pleasure to be able to pick out the sumptuous layers of sound that undulate so radiantly in these works, and to sample (with some clarity, at last) the smudgy, impressionistic colors Motyca Dawson coaxed out of her troops in the great choral Requiem.

Would that all of Pro Cantare's regular listeners could hear Howard County's premier vocal ensemble in such a hospitable setting.

Music with emotion

Sunday's joint concert afforded a lovely opportunity to sample Sir Edmund Rubbra's infrequently performed "Song of the Soul," a realization of a text penned by St. John of the Cross full of churning climaxes and a mystical, burgeoning heartbeat provided by the timpani.

Climactic moments such as "And for our sweet encounter tear the robe!" are enough to stamp out forever the stereotype of staid British anti-emotionalism.

We also were treated to Sir William Walton's jaunty "Jubilate Deo" and the estimable Sir Charles Villiers Stanford's lush and upbeat setting of the 23rd Psalm.

All of this is music to wallow in, and the choirs did not disappoint with singing that was expressive and emotionally engaged.

Choral music aficionados have their special moments in oft-performed, much loved works such as the Durufle Requiem, and, I must say, mine were realized splendidly at Sunday's performance.

The lines of chant on which Durufle crafts the structure of his Mass were sung clearly and freely.

The "Christe eleison," one of the most sumptuous choral passages ever composed, sounded absolutely beautiful, and there was an appealing sense of lift to the Sanctus that can easily remain earthbound in less supple hands.

Add superb playing by 2nd Presbyterian's organist, Margaret Budd, Susan Sauerwein's prominent harp solos, a rousing choral climax at "Dum veneris judicare" and a shimmering conclusion to the aptly named "In paradisum," and you get a Durufle Requiem very much up to my specifications.

There's an improvisatory feel to concerts like this. Joint rehearsal time is scarce, the orchestra gets added to the mix at the very last minute, and even space is at a premium as two choirs must cram into lofts and balconies designed for just one.

But when everyone performs with an awareness of just how beautiful the music truly is - as they did Sunday - logistical issues fade into insignificance.

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