The Choral Art Society began the season with Christmas in the Cathedral. Saturday night at Woodfords Congregational Church it ended the season with a more intimate celebration of the Epiphany, which commemorates the revelation of Christ to the gentiles, exemplified by the three Magi.
The program was sung by the Choral Art Camerata under the direction of Robert Russell, accompanied by an excellent chamber orchestra during the first half.
The second half, not as successful musically, was largely sung a cappella. Admittedly, the Bach Cantata No. 72, “Alles nur nach Gottes Willen,” is a hard act to follow.
The stage was set by a lovely “Beatus vir” (“Blessed is the man”) by Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643), which was a model of clarity and balance of voices. Sometimes less really is more.
The Bach cantata provided a fine opportunity for Camarata soloists Teresa Herold, alto, Leon Griesbach, baritone, and Sarah Johnson Bailey, soprano, in the solo arias, all of which were impressive in dynamic range and expressiveness, in spite of all the flourishes of baroque ornamentation. They were also able to realize the composer’s intentions in matching the pitch of the voice to the text.
The chamber orchestra accompaniment was outstanding, with the reedy sound of the oboes providing just the right amount of contrast.
The Bach was followed by a “Hodie Christus natus est” by his predecessor Heinrich Schutz.
What was striking about this composition was its attention to harmony as well as polyphony. almost as if Schutz had started to abandon the baroque before Bach.
Schutz is a composer of genius and his work deserves more exposure, something both the Camerata and the St. Mary Schola are accomplishing.
The second half of the program began on a high note, with a glorious “Serenity” (O Magnum Mysterium) by contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo.
The work is a throwback to an era of celestial harmony, with an ethereal chorus over violin and cello obligato, but there is nothing self-concious about it. Gjeilo is aiming for “passionate peacefulness” and achieves it perfectly. The towering chords were like the spires of a Gothic cathedral.
The rest of the concert did not live up to what had gone before.
The singing was as good as ever, but the works ranged from good, average church compositions to choir director specials, in which the harmonic tricks become wearing.
Herold’s deep alto was wasted in a truly lugubrious arrangement of “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” and even “How Can I Keep from Singing?” tended to drag.
Still, the concert was a fitting finale to the holidays.
Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. He can be reached at: