Annapolis Chorale subscribers in recent months had appealed to music director J. Ernest Green with one common request: more chorale.
Not to suggest anything unkind about the capable Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, which typically accompanies the chorale, or the fine array of soloists recently featured, but chorus singing is what some fans craved.
Green e-mailed them back before Saturday's concert to promise exactly that in a program "all about singing."
Music for the Heart did indeed delight the near-capacity audience at St. Anne's Episcopal Church on Saturday, while providing solace for the soul. Green introduced the audience to bright, accessible religious music that reinterprets old sacred texts in a contemporary light.
The concert, featuring an expanded Annapolis Chorale Chamber Chorus, also introduced what Green called "two of the most beautiful pieces ever written for choruses": "Requiem" by Gabriel Faure and "Lux Aeterna" by Morton Lauridsen. The Annapolis Chamber Orchestra also performed Arvo Part's "Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten," a short work for strings and one single chime in homage to the British composer.
In the near-perfect acoustics of St. Anne's, the chorus, orchestra and soloists Carolene Winter and James Rogers along with organist Larry Molinaro offered a sublime performance of Faure's "Requiem in D Minor" that seemed far removed from more ordinary requiems. Instead of fire and brimstone, Faure offered a serene vision without fear of death that he described as: "A happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above, rather than as a painful experience.
"In my Requiem," he wrote, "I have instinctively sought to escape from what is thought right and proper, after all the years of accompanying burial services on the organ. I know it all by heart. I wanted to write something different."
Green conducted his singers and musicians in a "Requiem" performance filled with elegant simplicity and serenity. The opening minor key notes expressed a lightness and clarity that immediately brought a sense of calm.
In seven parts, the "Requiem" starts with an "Introit" or "Kyrie" that is compelling in its supplication for peace for the dead. This is followed by an "Offertoire" containing a baritone solo that was well delivered by James Rogers; his elegant, rather light baritone seemed well suited to the music. The melodic "Sanctus" was followed by "Pie Jesu," another lovely melody which preceded the "Agnus Dei" beautifully sung by Winter, a soprano who fully captured its hauntingly lovely melody. "Libera me" again featured soloist Rogers.
Ending with "In Paradisum," the performance scaled new heights as the chorus was joined by the angelic voices of the Annapolis Youth Chorus singing from the organ loft in the back of the church, creating a heavenly surround-sound.
After intermission, Green led the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra in Part's "Cantus" written in 1977 soon after Part, a native of Estonia who had no outside musical influences, developed his so-called "tintinnabular" (ringing of bells sound) characterized by simple harmonies, often single unadorned notes or triad chords.
The piece begins with three beats of silence before we hear a chime rung three times, after which the strings enter and begin a long series of minor scales. Each group adds a pitch each time and continues to build. Part's minimalist music takes on a moving dramatic intensity, getting louder and louder and culminating in a single note on the chime as the final string chord echoes.
Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna" (Perpetual Light) is a challenging, radiant work in five movements. This 1997 work is built on liturgical texts derived from the "Requiem" and "Te Deum" that deal with light. The work's soft dissonances are inviting and listenable. Green said it has become one of the most popular choral works of the past 20 years.
He brought out the work's colorful choral textures, while assuring that the orchestra sensitively supported the chorus. Beginning with the "Introitus," where the music immediately rose to a higher realm, the work next turned reverential in "In Te, Domine, Speravi" as female voices sang a gorgeous melody in counterpoint to male voices that lent profundity. "O Nata Lux" brought a gentler, more reverential tone that was followed by "Veni, Sancte Spiritus" with an orchestral melody that rose to an ecstatic climax. The piece ended in a softer, prayerful "Agnus Dei -- Lux Aeterna" that was wondrous.
Next on the Annapolis Chorale schedule will be Aida on April 25 and 26 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. For more information, call the Annapolis Chorale office at 410-263-1906 or visit annapolischorale.org.