Bernstein concert caps season

Performance: The Arundel Vocal Arts Society tackles a difficult program by one of its director's favorite composers.

Howard Live

May 27, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

In the Bravo Bernstein! concert Saturday at St. John's Key Auditorium, Glenette Schumacher capped the Arundel Vocal Arts Society's 21st season and her 10th year as music and artistic director.

The performance, which honored one of her favorite composers, also marked Schumacher's final concert before taking a year's sabbatical to pursue graduate studies.

The all-Leonard Bernstein program included selections from his Mass, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, Peter Pan, Candide, West Side Story and Chichester Psalms.

The Vocal Artists began with an inspired "Almighty Father" from Mass, followed by tenor soloist Jeff Sneeringer's moving "Simple Song."

The complex centerpiece of the program was Chichester Psalms, created for a cathedral in Sussex, England. It is a work that straddles Broadway and classical idioms in a melding of American music set to psalms sung in Hebrew.

It is a tricky piece that requires capturing modern rhythms in Hebrew words by a strong chorus. The choristers must provide the sharp contrasts demanded by the work to deliver high drama, and enough musical force to rock the audience, while capturing the religious melodies that celebrate our humanity.

At Saturday's performance, a trio of instrumentalists - Cindy Bauschspies on piano, Adrian Cox on bass and percussionist Marty Knepp - proved to be accomplished musicians. They had the daunting task of summoning all the drama this piece demands from a usually much larger orchestra.

I found the introductory Psalm 108 lacking drama. The joyous Psalm 100 that evokes West Side Story was missing some of the spirited male agitation that offers counterpoint to the sopranos.

Although Bernstein specified that a boy should sing David's Psalm 23, AVAS' performance featured soprano Suzanne Bongiorno, who gave a lovely account with the chorus. Psalm 2 with its theme, "Why do nations rage," lacked some of the contrapuntal agitation required of the male voices to contrast with serene faith expressed by the female voices.

Psalm 131 - which begins with a pensive pleading by men joined by women singing their praises to God - was gorgeous, with the melody becoming more ravishing when repeated without words. The piece ended with Psalm 133 sung in soft, serene contemplation.

Schumacher deserves praise for attempting this difficult work and for providing some momentous music.

The Vocal Artists handled selections from Candide with aplomb, distinguishing themselves in "The Best of All Possible Worlds" and "Make Our Garden Grow" with soloist Theresa Butler offering a moving, "It Must Be So."

The evening ended with aWest Side Story medley. It included a compelling "Tonight," tenor soloist Jeff Sneeeringer's heartfelt "Maria," plus a lovely "Somewhere."

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