David Hoose and the Cantata Singers presented an amazing program of diverse composers on Friday night, Nov. 5, at Jordan Hall. Hoose, who has amassed an extraordinary ability to select lesser known works by major composers, is dedicating this year to Vaughn Williams (1872-1958. This program included two works by him; his music exudes the essence of “Englishness,” but that can be charming, and this program laid on the charm.
Hoose took us to the ocean’s edge with On the Beach at Night by Andrew Imbrie (1921-2007), a haunting and somber work. Imbrie taught at Berkeley, and as I listened to the piece, I couldn’t help wondering whether he had borrowed a page from movie studio composers. The piece begins on a low E and proceeds with trills from the violins, building up to a pulsating crescendo. Hoose’s wonderfully clear conducting signals produced lots of textures and murky harmonies.
The meat of the evening were compositions by Yehudi Wyner and Williams. The latter’s Flos Campi piece, composed in1925, is a viola concerto. Soloist William Frampton played this difficult work from memory – a remarkable display, and musical skill. This piece begins on a low E again, but brass and woodwind players join with the strings to make a small orchestra. As the music got underway, one could almost feel the moors and the wind – these English guys are uniquely pictorial. Williams studied with Stanford and Bruch, but he definitely spoke with his own voice – very British, sincere, and poignant — neither polite nor aggressive, just tender. With Williams you get atonality with low B minor pedal point, and F sharp vs F natural, and the solo viola having a dialogue with the oboe. The large chorus opened their voices and hummed along, with surging harmonies – all of which was very affecting. The soloist received a rousing ovation.
Yehudi Wyner’s (b. 1929) Give Thanks for All Things received its world premiere. In his pre-concert talk, the composer explained that some of the score was originally written for Dawn Upshaw in the form of songs, but he felt he hadn’t handled the undertaking entirely to his own satisfaction. After contacting Richard Wilbur and Frank Kermode for advice, he chose a simple prayer for the main text – “Dear Lord be Good to Me! the sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.” So, with the commission deadline looming last spring, and the promise to have it delivered by September, he reorganized the music into a new guise with this large-scale work. I heard references to Schoenberg’s Piano Concerto and Ellington in the jazzy dirge section, like a slow blues crawl, with lots of extra-terrestrial qualities. Wyner has the oboe playing strange intervals, interrupted by bleating brass, or the first violins making large leaps harmonically. The Cantata Chorus sang touchingly, and the three soloists stood on tiny podiums to be heard. I was especially grateful for the clear diction, because the words have so much meaning. Hoose clearly had committed a lot of time and energy to understanding what Wyner wanted, and he kept it all tied together. The audience gave him a most warm reception as he bounded onstage in his velvet bomber jacket and pink tie.
Next came a small Oboe Concerto, wonderfully played by Peggy Pearson, in a bright red moiré strapless dress. Again, the piece was English-sounding – starting with a cadenza from the oboe, trills and had a gentle quality; Pearson played cat-and-mouse with the strings with a tiny A minor theme, sort of like a jig. The middle movement went to C major and kept to itself, but the last movement included soaring cello passages of great beauty, and lyric lines for oboe soloist. Before, Williams seemed to view the oboe as a staccato voice, and it ended with the same cadenza as in the beginning. Pearson gave a convincing rendition of this Williams work, and the audience enthusiastically approved of her virtuosity.
Hoose ended this extravaganza with a witty The Choral New Yorker by Irving Fine, who was a member of the Brandeis music department. Harry Ellis Dickson, a close friend of Fine, used to tell the delicious story of how the fearsome conductor, after listening to the orchestra, looked at his friend and said, ”Fine, Fine . . . .Dat was awful.” Koussevitsky often programmed his music, and this collection of poems taken from The New Yorker magazine and converted into choral form, was orchestrated by David Hoose. It was anything but awful.
As an added bonus, everyone who attended received an elegant and very detailed ll6-page program booklet – an erudite compendium worth reading and keeping for reference.
The Cantata Singers are offering Vaughn Williams on four of their programs this season. This offers Boston music lovers a rare opportunity to hear this glorious output