Anthony Antolini, who directed the Bowdoin Chorus and Mozart Mentors Orchestra Thursday night at Bowdoin College’s Studzinski Recital Hall, was not satisfied with the rhythmically complex third movement of Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, so he had the chorus and orchestra play it again.

I liked the first try just fine, but it was great to hear it once more. The entire work is both accessible and glorious for believers and nonbelievers alike. The more one hears it, the more one can hear and enjoy.

The program began with an equally wonderful setting of Psalm No. 114 by Felix Mendelssohn, that I found much more satisfying than the more often played oratorios, “Elijah,” performed here not long ago, and “St. Paul.”

The Psalm’s eight-part harmonies are standard hymnal fare, but raised to a higher level of power, melody and sophistication, while the orchestration is masterful. In the section in which the chorus sings, “The sea saw it and fled. The Jordan was driven back,” there is a rippling passage that Smetana must have cribbed almost verbatim for “The Moldau.”

The orchestra is a professional-amateur collaboration by Maine teachers of stringed instruments and their selected students, intended specifically to accompany choral works. In Thursday night’s concert, it was supplemented by guest artists in the brass, woodwinds and percussion sections, plus two pianos that gave the Stravinsky an unusual sonority.

The result was thoroughly professional in all respects, although perhaps better in the Mendelssohn than in the more demanding Symphony.

One reason I attended the concert was to make a comparison of the live performance of Stravinsky’s work with the Psalm settings by Leonard Bernstein that were performed recently by the Portland Symphony Orchestra. There is none.

The Symphony is a great work of art, deeply felt and expressed in an idiom that is sui generis. It builds, “piling fugue on fugue,” as Stravinsky said, from lamentation through patient anticipation to final triumph. The sections are in proportional lengths of one, two and three, and there is an inner cohesiveness found only in masterpieces.

A large audience seemed to enjoy both performances a great deal. I think most were as surprised and charmed as I was by the unexpected encore.

A note from Antolini mentioned that the Mozart Mentors may soon be joined by teachers of other instruments. I hope so, because the concept works very well. They might want to have a contest for a new name.

Christopher Hyde’s Classical Beat column appears in the Maine Sunday Telegram. Contact him at: [email protected]

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