Last fall, Emily Isaacson, the music director of the Oratorio Chorale, started a women’s offshoot, Sweetest in the Gale. The new choir, which takes its name from a phrase in an Emily Dickinson poem, “Hope Is the Thing With Feathers,” devoted its inaugural program, “To Sing Above As Angels Do,” on Saturday evening at the Episcopal Church of St. Mary in Falmouth to works by women composers.

It was a lovely idea: Isaacson reached back to the 12th century for a piece from Hildegarde of Bingen’s “Ordo Virtutum,” and then traced a chronological path to the 21st century, with rarely explored composers like Chiara Margarita Cozzolani and Augusta Holmès offset by familiar names like Lili Boulanger, Amy Beach, Libby Larsen and Meredith Monk.

As it turned out, Isaacson was unable to conduct her new group’s debut. Nine months pregnant, with a baby due any day, she was ordered by her physician to stay off her feet. In her place, the choir’s assistant conductor, Mark Rossnagel – whose program biography said that he would be available “should an unpredictable obstetrical situation require” – led the concert.

It could not have been an easy task. Although the program was short (less than an hour), a few of the works offered complications that taxed these singers’ resources. Cozzolani’s rich “Ave Regina Caelorum” sounded ragged and imperfectly tuned, and there were intonation problems and ensemble tentativeness in the first part of Boulanger’s “Les Sirènes” as well.

But this want of polish was by no means consistent, and in fact, the group was at its best in some of the most demanding music. In the final section of “Les Sirènes,” for example, the ensemble was able to overcome the issues that plagued the work’s opening.

They also sounded good in excerpts from Monk’s whimsical “Three Heavens and Hells,” a work cast in the accented rhythms, sound effects, repetitions and choreography typical of idiosyncratic music Monk writes for her own virtuosic ensemble. Rossnagel oversaw a beautiful interpretation, disciplined but fun, and then moved directly into a serene reading of Gwyneth Walker’s more sober “Love Is a Rain of Diamonds” to close the concert.

Hildegard’s “O Frondens Virga,” performed as a processional from the back of the small, brick church, also made a strong impression, and the ensemble produced a suitably bright, solid sound in Amy Beach’s quaint setting of “Through the House Give Glimmering Light,” from Shakespeare’s “Midsummer Night’s Dream.”

The program also included a solo piano work, Clara Schumann’s Nocturne (Op. 6, No. 2), an interlude built of Chopinesque chromaticism, written in 1836, when the composer was still a teenager (and still actually Clara Wieck; she did not marry Robert Schumann until 1840). Derek Herzer, the Oratorio Chorale’s pianist, gave it a graceful account. He also accompanied Mary Sullivan in two works for solo soprano – Holmès’ “Une Vision de Ste. Thérèse,” a 19th-century setting of a section from the autobiography of Teresa of Avila, the 16th-century Spanish nun who was later canonized, and Libby Larsen’s “Anne Boleyn,” part of a set based on the final words and letters of Henry VIII’s first five wives. Sullivan gave intensely dramatic readings, with ample measures of ecstasy in the Holmès, and anger, terror and resignation in the Larsen.

Allan Kozinn is a former music critic and culture writer for The New York Times who lives in Portland. He can be contacted at:

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