Morgan honors Carter's memory

BSO joins choir in musical tribute to beloved director

September 18, 2004|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

A joyful noise filled the air last night in memory of Nathan Carter, much-loved director of the nonpareil Morgan State University Choir.

Carter's funeral in July at the New Shiloh Baptist Church produced an exceptional outpouring of affection and musical celebration that would be hard to top, but this free concert at the Murphy Fine Arts Center on the Morgan campus provided its own stirring rewards. Carter would have loved it.

Sharing the stage with the Morgan chorus, led by interim director Eric Conway, were the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, its music director Yuri Temirkanov, and guest artists - all of whom donated their services for the event.

Carter, who died from cancer at 68, meticulously molded his choir for 34 years, creating one of the country's best - and one of Baltimore's finest goodwill ambassadors. Throughout the program, the ensemble signaled an obvious commitment to honor his dedication. Articulation was consistently disciplined and clear, right down to crisp consonants that he would have been very pleased with; the blend was smooth; expressive fuel made each phrase count.

The first half of the evening, sensitively led by Conway, included settings of two psalm texts composed by Carter. His overly generous nods to Mendelssohn, Brahms and Schubert in both did not produce particularly distinctive results, but the sincerity of his intentions couldn't be missed.

More telling were his arrangements of sacred pieces by others, especially a glowing treatment of "Precious Lord" that had the choir singing exquisitely and one of its own soloists, Kenneth Alston, soaring in a crystalline falsetto.

Carter's keen ear for harmony and for driving a message home was likewise reflected in "The Lord Be Praised." There was another impressive solo here, this one by Cynthia Hardy, who spun out embellishments with a Cleo Laine-like tonal richness.

Temirkanov took the podium for the second half, devoted to the excerpts from Gershwin's Porgy and Bess that he and the BSO performed two years ago with the Morgan choir.

The success of that first collaboration between Carter's forces and Temirkanov led to the Russian conductor's inviting the chorus to sing the Gershwin score with his St. Petersburg Philharmonic in Russia last January. That turned out to be the group's final international travel with Carter.

Last night, Temirkanov's innate flair for this material again lit up the place and drew from the choir a lively, communicative performance.

The guest soloists were the same as at the 2002 performance here, and just as memorable as they were then. Arthur Woodley made a compelling Porgy, his phrasing alive with character. Kishna Davis used her radiant soprano with remarkable power and seductive charm. Stephen Jones served up "It Ain't Necessarily So" in a deliciously unfettered style.

The BSO wasn't in peak form, but got much of the music's snap and heat across.

"If I can help somebody," the choir sang during the opening portion of the concert, "then my living shall not be in vain" - an ideal summation of Nathan Carter's philosophy and legacy.

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