Heaven and Earth, Annapolis Chorale season-opener, soars to heights


Arundel Live


From the stirring rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner" that started the evening to the standing ovation that closed it, the Annapolis Chorale's season-opening program lived up to its Heaven and Earth title.

Music Director J. Ernest Green conducted the chorale, the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and soloists in a performance that seemed to be earthbound only during its patriotic opening segment, which featured chorale members singing the National Anthem from the aisles.

Other American works performed Saturday included Aaron Copland's Fanfare for the Common Man, originally commissioned as a salute to those who served during World War II, and Samuel Barber's Adagio for Strings, which increasingly seems to express the profundity of post-9/11 feelings for our country and its defenders who remain in harm's way.

In his preconcert lecture, Green described the central work of the first half of the program - Anton Bruckner's Te Deum as, "a glimpse into the mind and faith of Bruckner with the chorus and soloists functioning as sections of the orchestra."

Then, in the performance, this was perfectly achieved with the chorus becoming a most soulful orchestral instrument, offering an outpouring of emotion. Soloist John W. Artz sang in a tenor voice of great beauty and power. Soprano Amy Cofield delivered her usual exquisite performance, with mezzo Jenni Lynn Bank and baritone Jimi James contributing all required of them.

This Bruckner performance caused me to reflect on the dull perfection of many recorded performances that seldom convey any balance problems between voices and orchestra. Not simply offering orchestral support to the singers, Green allowed the chorus to take turns with the orchestra to determine dominance, thereby increasing the emotional intensity and rich musicality.

After intermission, the Annapolis Chorale, Chamber Orchestra and soloists celebrated the world of opera, beginning with a lovely rendition of Mascagni's "Intermezzo" from Cavalleria Rusticana, a Verdi aria and an operatic excerpt complete with surtitles that established Green's chorus, soloists and orchestra as opera heavyweights.

Amy Cofield sang a poignant "Addio del passato" from Verdi's La Traviata that amazed in its intensity. Having heard Baltimore Opera's La Traviata six days earlier with diva Elena Kelessidi as Violetta, I was struck at the heart-wrenching pathos and vocal beauty Cofield projected.

The pinnacle of the program was the "Prologue in Heaven" from Arrigo Boito's seldom performed opera Mefistofele. Featuring orchestra, bass baritone soloist, offstage brass and multiple choruses of adults and children, this is opera at its grandest and was magnificently realized.

Green described the music as "presenting a human and cynical devil wagering with and taunting God."

"Before the devil's entrance, we hear the heavenly host praising God," he said. "Later, the flying cherubim circle around Mephistopheles to annoy him like mosquitoes."

Every segment was perfect, with James delivering a dazzling performance that not only displayed his magnificent voice but showcased his dance expertise and delicious sense of humor.

The Youth Chorus excelled as did the chorale, which never sounded better.

The program was followed by thunderous applause and a well-deserved standing ovation, with some wondering how Green and the chorale can possibly top this opening classical concert.

Next on schedule is the Celebration of Christmas Concert on Dec. 8 and 9. Tickets: 410-263-1906.

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