The Boston Camerata has been offering interesting, well-conceived programs for years. However, their most recent concert, presented in the spacious acoustics of First Church, Cambridge, explored new territory for the group. “Land of Pure Delight-In Search of the American Soul” plumbed the depths of repertoire rarely heard in a full concert. One risk with this music is that too much of it—with its modal, spare harmony, straightforward melody and simple counterpoint—can become tedious and predictable. With obvious care, creative director Anne Asema (who also sang in the program) organized the selections into nicely contrasting groups (“Upon the fair soil,” “Liberty Tree,” “Johnny Has Gone for a Soldier,” etc.), further contrasting instrumental and vocal offerings, as well as juxtaposing reflective and energetic music.
Donald Wilkinson opened the program with a sturdy and winsome solo, setting just the right mood for what was to come. The chorus processed in, along with instrumentalists from the Middlesex County Volunteer Fifes and Drums. Among the many splendid solos, Jason McStoots’ “Lincoln & Liberty” and “Trumpet of Peace” stood out. Asema was also heard in a solo or two, adding laurels to her crown. Consistency was a hallmark of the program, and if it was sometimes difficult to follow the program and text, the charm, simplicity and excellent contrasts made it more than interesting and engaging at every moment. It was a pleasing synchronicity that these patriotic and stirring pieces were being heard on the heels of the recent elections; one could almost feel the sense of connection to the political issues, past and present.
The affecting engagement of all the singers and instrumentalists unified the evening. The vocal style was delightfully unaffected, delivered with grace, warmth, and vitality. Only in the last group did the rather direct and simple style of the music begin to seem a bit more predictable.
An “Epilogue” to the concert was offered, with the audience invited to adjourn to the “Dance Hall” during the recession. This listener followed the crowd and we circled around the room for quite awhile, seemingly in need of direction, which did not materialize. It may have, but an early appointment the next day sent me off into the night, happy to have heard this delightful group in such an outstanding program.
Brian E. Jones was music director and organist at Trinity Church, Copley Square, Boston, from 1984-2004, He has held interim positions locally at Old South Church and Memorial Church at Harvard and also was director of the Dedham Choral Society for many years.