in: Reviews

October 9, 2009

Local Singers Launch Worthwhile Relief Fund

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In a city such as Boston it is easy to take our professional wealth of all sorts for granted, and the musical scene is no exception. Most music lovers are aware of the quality of local instrumental musicians, but many may be less aware of the depth of vocal talent of which we can boast. “A Singer’s Voice” was a program presented last Saturday evening at Back Bay’s Church of the Covenant to launch “The Boston Singers’ Relief Fund,” a worthy venture by any measure, and the program made it clear that we have much to celebrate in our professional singers.

Murray Kidd was organizer and conductor of this concert, which featured a broad range of choral music as well as one operatic excerpt from Strauss’ Die Fledermaus, which featured Barbara Kilchuff, soprano.

From the first phrase of Mendelssohn’s “Richte Mich, Gott,” it was apparent that not only had the musicians been well rehearsed, but they sounded like an experienced and cohesive ensemble, not always the easiest thing to achieve with a group of professional singers. One of the finest of Mendelssohn’s anthems, this received a stirring performance which got things off to a rousing start. Charles Villiers Stanford’s serene “Beati Quorum Via” provided sweet contrast to the sturdiness of the opening work, and Hubert Parry’s grand and glorious “I Was Glad,” (a setting of Psalm 122), written for the coronation of King Edward VII in 1902, rang out in elegant grandeur through the lofty rafters of the church. Frederick MacArthur managed the organ accompaniment deftly, and this performance even included the stirring “Vivat Regina” section that is often omitted. Durufle’s “Ubi Caritas,” sometimes sung too rigidly, here received a warm and plangent reading which was the embodiment of the hopeful text: “Where charity and love are, there is God.” Rarely-heard Samuel Coleridge Taylor, a short-lived late Romantic black English composer, was represented by his anthem “The Lee Shore,” a piece rarely heard these days; I suspect it is from his cantata, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, a setting of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem. “Agnus Dei,” from the interesting Mass by Puccini was charming, made even more so by tenor Michael Calmes’ lovely singing.

Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music rounded out the first half. This unusual work calls for 16 soloists who also sing as a chorus (in this performance ably augmented by their colleagues), and was heard here with organ accompaniment in place of the original orchestral score. Fred MacArthur’s organ accompaniment brought out every possible orchestral color from the organ, even including the harp/celesta stop, to the delight of the audience. There were many short, splendid solos, and one had the happy feeling here, as in the rest of the program, that the singers were collaborating, not competing: a wonderful thing. I have never been entirely convinced by this piece, but this performance made the best case to date.

Perhaps my only real reservation about the evening was the much-too-long intermission, something which seems endemic to choral concerts in the Boston area. Perhaps the silent auction required a bit of extra time, but it was close to ½ hour, which makes for a long evening.

In the above-mentioned Strauss, which opened the second half, Barbara Kilchuff spun her coloratura around the choruses, clearly pleasing the audience. The rest of the program included music of David N. Childs; Morten Lauridsen; a somewhat over-arranged setting by Kirk Mechem of the well-known spiritual “Didn’t My Lord Deliver Daniel”; Jack Halloran’s ingenious arrangement of “Witness”; and a very quiet concluding anthem “For All We Know,” by Fred Coots in an arrangement by Brent Pierce. It was refreshing, especially in the context of this evening’ program, to end quietly and thoughtfully.

This was an impressive launch of a very worthwhile venture. Hats off to Murray Kidd, as well as to many other colleagues who worked so hard to ensure the success of the evening. For further information or to contribute: www.bostonsingersresource.org/bsrp.asp

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.

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