The Oratorio Chorale has given its current season the overall title “Celebrating Home” as a way of indicating that collaborations with Maine performers will be plentiful. At its opening concert, which had a theme (and title) of its own – “Prodigies” – the choir’s guest was Christopher Staknys, a 19-year-old pianist and composer from Falmouth who is currently a sophomore at The Juilliard School in New York.

Staknys has already made some waves, having won prizes at several competitions. He also made an impressive appearance last year on the NPR radio show “From the Top,” where he played Rachmaninoff and excerpts from a couple of his compositions. He appeared in both his guises with the Oratorio Chorale at Woodfords Congregational Church on Saturday evening.

As a composer, he supplied a new setting of Conrad Aiken’s “The Window,” a poem that offers an evocative, fanciful description of a woman’s view of the world from a high window. Staknys responded to the text with gracefully shifting chordal harmonies that expand with Aiken’s changing imagery.

The work had a light string and organ accompaniment, supplied by the Maine Chamber Ensemble, whose strings also accompanied Staknys’ appearance as a pianist, in the opening movement of Chopin’s Concerto No. 1 (Op. 11), a work composed when Chopin was about Staknys’ age.

It was a bit dicey, at first. The small string body, conducted by Emily Isaacson, who directs both the choir and the chamber orchestra, played an arrangement credited to Friedrich Kalkbrenner, the pianist to whom Chopin had dedicated the work. The ensemble’s sound was thin and tentative in the introduction, and Staknys, clearly determined not to be fazed by that, played the piano’s first phrases with the power and solidity you would expect if he were playing a full-scale rendering.

The result was odd, as if the piano were twice the size and volume of the orchestra. But Staknys and the strings soon found the middle ground, and offered a balanced, flowing performance that let Staknys show his admirable strengths – dexterity and dramatic phrase shaping, among them – without bulldozing the orchestra.

Besides Chopin and Staknys, Isaacson’s survey of prodigies included Purcell, Mendelssohn and Mozart. Purcell was represented by “O Sing the Lord” (actually a late work, composed in 1688, seven years before Purcell’s death). But the two Mendelssohn works, “Jesu, meine Freude” and “Christe, du Lamm Gottes,” were written when the composer was in his late teens. And Mozart was 13 when he composed the brief Te Deum that closed the program.

Isaacson, in her third season, is said to have made remarkable strides with this choir, including highly praised performances of some big works, most notably the Mozart Requiem and the Brahms German Requiem.

So perhaps the inconsistencies of the choir’s performance on Saturday can be ascribed to season-opener jitters. The Purcell, a glorious piece, was not ready for prime time: Intonation and ensemble were wobbly, especially in passages for solo voices and small groups, but in the full choir passages, too.

After the intermission, the choir’s strengths were more evident. Isaacson led robust, focused accounts of the two Mendelssohn scores, and the youthful Mozart Te Deum was bright, light in texture and wonderfully transparent. Here’s hoping the choir builds on that standard as the season unfolds.

The Oratorio Chorale will present a Christmas concert, “Sing We Noël,” at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, in Brunswick, on Dec. 18 and 19. The choir will also participate in “Christmas With Cornils: A Kotzschmar Christmas” at Merrill Auditorium, on Dec. 22.

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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