Chorus celebrates through song

Concert: The Arundel Vocal Arts Society offers diverse melodies for the holiday season.

Review

Howard Live

December 23, 2004|By Mary Johnson | Mary Johnson,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

Interim director Betty-Ann Lynerd and the Arundel Vocal Arts Society presented their Christmas "A Season of New Traditions" concert last week at Calvary United Methodist Church in Annapolis, showcasing the ensemble's strengths in a cappella music, precise enunciation and pleasing harmonies.

For her first concert with AVAS, Lynerd chose a program that included a hymn to the Virgin Mary, set to the 12th-century harmonies of Hildegarde of Bingen, and another "Ave Maria," set in seven-voice parts by 20th-century German composer Franz Biebl. Another piece, contemporary composer John Tavener's "The Lamb," set 18th-century poet William Blake's poem in tight, modern, harmonic clusters.

The Dec. 12 program revealed the broad versatility of the chorus, which moved from a medieval work to the esoteric modern work of John Tavener and on to a 20th-century African carol sung in the Yoruba language.

Written in a single melodic line, medieval abbess Hildegarde's "O Frondens Virga" describes Mary as a "blossoming virgin" who lifts us up. The chorus was well displayed in this largely a cappella piece that opened the concert. Adding to it was Theresa Butler's clear, bright soprano enhanced by Tatiana Johanning's flute accompaniment.

Biebl's "Ave Maria," a double-chorus piece composed in 1961 for his Munich firemen's choir, is derived from the Angelus liturgy recited morning, noon and evening to a ringing Angelus bell. AVAS offered Biebl's later version, set in seven voice parts with three soloists - Kevin Powers, Suzanne Bongiorno and Karen Baumbach - underscoring why this piece has become a favorite.

The longest work on the program, Ralph Vaughan Williams' "Fantasia on Christmas Carols," was beautifully sung and featured tenor William Gabbard of the Soldiers' Chorus, along with Irma Cripe's soulful cello accompaniment. Gabbard's powerful tenor displayed mellow qualities usually associated with a baritone voice to add richness.

The Nigerian carol "Betelehemu," composed by Nigerian drummer Babatunde Olatunji and arranged by his choral director Wendell Whalum, was the high point of the afternoon. "Betelehemu" (Bethlehem) is an elegantly simple affirmation of faith and a touching retelling of the Christmas story. The Vocal Artists sang this exciting carol with verve in Yoruba, with drama and color added by percussionist Bruce Smith.

Adding its distinctive sound was AVAS guest, the Annapolis Area Christian School's Women's Chorus, directed by Cindy Bauchspies. This chorus produced a bright, lively sound in a medley of songs for the season.

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