Vocal artists offer inspiring midwinter program

Review

January 16, 2003|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With a flawless sense of timing, Glenette Schumacher, music and artistic director of the Arundel Vocal Arts Society, scheduled a Midwinter Rejoicing concert Sunday in this more contemplative period after the holiday hubbub. Equally flawless was her choice of a program replete with rarely heard works by Handel, Mozart, Mendelssohn and Menotti.

The concert opened with Chandos No. 9, Psalm 135 by George Frideric Handel, an engaging work that was new to me. Sounding larger than its 70 voices, the full chorus sang an inspired "O Praise the Lord With One Consent" to begin the work with a joyous sound echoed by a dozen instrumentalists. Contrasting passages among the orchestra, soloists and chorus combined to convey the composer's joyous, profound religiosity.

Mezzo-soprano Susan von Suhrke's large, expressive voice displayed an astonishing range that reached near-baritone depths in "Praise Him, All Ye That in His House Attend With Constant Care." Equal demands were placed on the society's tenor Thomas Magette, making his debut, who sang most of "For This Our Truest Interest Is Glad Hymns of Praise" in highest tenor stratosphere.

Returning bass Paul Edson revealed a rich voice of impressive depth as he sang "That God is Great We Often Have by Glad Experience Found." Now living in Atlanta, longtime Vocal Arts Society soprano soloist Vicki Shaw returned for this concert, delivering a lovely "God's Tender Mercy Knows No Bounds" in the Handel chandos and improving in each subsequent selection she sang.

Handel's Chandos No. 9 ended as it began, with the entire chorus sounding divinely inspired, stylishly negotiating every required vocal embellishment.

"We chose this wonderful little, nearly forgotten chandos to show there's so much more to Handel than only Messiah," said Schumacher.

If discovering a little-known Handel work was pleasant, finding a rarely performed work by Mozart was even more exciting. Mozart was already the world's most wondrous Wunderkind when at age 16 he composed Litany in B-Flat Major. With the opening notes of the "Kyrie Eleison" the sublime genius that is Mozart was revealed anew.

Again the Arundel vocal artists were joined by the four soloists, with Shaw at her ravishing best in the "Agnus Dei," her lovely voice soaring with notable fullness as she skillfully negotiated all the embellishment hazards.

Clearly enjoying performing this Mozart work, the other soloists each contributed a unique beauty to the musical texture, combining with the chorus to create a rich tapestry of distinctive Mozart sound. Together, singers and musicians conveyed the fresh joy of discovering the young Mozart to an enthralled audience.

The second half of the program also offered selections rarely heard in concert, such as "The Shepherds' Chorus" from Gian Carlo Menotti's Amahl and the Night Visitors and Felix Mendelssohn's "He, Watching Over Israel" from Elijah, and his "There Shall a Star Come Out of Jacob," along with a new hymn "Sing Me to Heaven" in addition to familiar carols and "For Unto Us a Child Is Born" from Handel's Messiah.

The "Shepherds' Chorus" required precise timing combined with operatic flair. In counterpoint soloists and chorus sang of the shepherds' simple offerings of nutmeg, hazelnuts and honeycombs, combining to create a lovely moment that would enhance any holiday concert.

Mendelssohn's Elijah passage was just as beautifully realized by the singers, who seemed to transform themselves into the people of Israel, singing phrases in counterpoint which seemed to grow stronger in repetition, allowing the chorus to display a growing versatility.

After a few weeks respite, traditional carols such as "Twelve Days of Christmas" and "The Holly and the Ivy" added warm moments, and from Handel's Messiah, the magnificent "For Unto Us a Child Is Born" extended the beauty of the yuletide season.

Yet another unfamiliar piece was introduced in this section with the lovely and profoundly moving "Sing Me to Heaven," a 1991 work with music by Daniel Gawthrop and words by Jane Griner. Perfectly wedded to the melody were such words as "Sing me a lullaby, a love song, a requiem. Love me, comfort me, bring me to God. Sing me a love song. Sing me to heaven."

After conducting "Sing Me to Heaven," Schumacher announced that Sunday's program was dedicated to the memory of lifelong musician and long-term Vocal Arts Society member Robert Welton of Annapolis, who died Jan. 5 after a brief illness. This tribute could hardly have been lovelier or more heartfelt.

The Arundel Vocal Arts Society will present its annual spring concert on May 17 at Key Auditorium at St. John's College.

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