vocal ensemble womanSong has been on the Charleston scene a dozen years now, and I’ve
attended several of their concerts, mostly after Emily Capece assumed the
position of artistic director and conductor.
weekend’s Winter Concert offered a diversity of music and musical styles. Capece
is a fine conductor – clear and expressive. While I’m not very well acquainted
with the female choral repertoire, she seems to be well-acquainted with it.
'Alleluia' was performed from the back of the hall.
opened with a small ensemble singing an Alleluia
by Tarik O’Regan, an up-and-coming thirty-something British composer who’s
gaining an international reputation. The fanfare was performed with only drum,
putting both audience singers in the spirit of the season.
The full ensemble
then divided in two and went back a century for an 8-part Ave Maria by another British composer, Gustav Holst.
Cora Voce (in red) joined womanSong for 'Stabat Mater'
directs Cora Voce, the high school girls choir of Appalachian Children’s
Chorus. They joined womanSong for the performance of Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, the entrée of the evening as
it were. A small instrumental ensemble from the symphony, David Donathan on
continuo and soloists Mariel van Dalsum-Boggs and Branita Holbrook-Bratka also
joined the fray.
Mariel van Dalsum-Boggs
commissioned work, Stabat Mater was originally
written for male soprano and alto and continuo; the work was later arranged for
SA chorus with soprano and alto soloists and strings by Bach. Unfortunately,
both soloists were sopranos. Van Dalsum-Boggs offered her usual lovely spinning
soprano, but Holbrook-Bratka’s fine mezzo voice was often lost in the lower
range, However she did provide a marvelous tonal color contrast.
Pergolesi died at the young age of 26 and this was one of his final works. Written as a Good Friday meditation in honor of Mary, it enjoyed immense popularity and secured his place in musical history.
addition of the younger voices suited the Pergolesi well, supporting a pure
tone to match the style of the musical era. The instrumentalists only covered
the alto soloist occasionally. I was surprised to see cellist Andrea DiGregorio
playing bass, but I probably shouldn’t have since most string players must teach
intermission, it was obvious that the audience was bolstered by family and
friends of Cora Voce as there was a mass exodus. What a shame! There were
treasures in store for those who stayed for the second half – not the least of
which was the outstanding accompaniment of pianist Janet Brightbill who also
offered a superb solo for the free-will offering.
back a few more centuries for the text to Vivos
Voco by contemporary composer Joan Szymko. The ensemble performed this
intricate work from memory as they did some other works near the end of the
program. As a choral singer myself, I appreciated the commitment required to do
that and it impresses an audience.
was joined by violinist Tim Tan for two of the Five Hebrew Love Songs, written
by Eric Whitacre for his wife, soprano Hila Piltmann. These are haunting
melodies, delicately delivered by both ensemble and violinist.
Snowforms by Canadian R. Murray Schafer
paired vocal and visual landscapes for what the composer calls a ‘soundscape.’
As a singer, I can assure you that these require much more than vocal skill to
perform. Each singer must become a vocal interpreter, a shared creator of the
work of art.
Eric Whitacre's 'Hebrew Love Songs'
nicely sung When the Song of the Angels
is Stilled by a small ensemble, the full chorus launched into the lighter
section to close the program. The folk song Wood River and soloist Nicole Cofer was an audience pleaser.
That was followed by a sing-along First
Nowell (which could have benefited from some audience light) and a Swingle
Singers-like version of the Dance of the
Sugar Plum Fairy.
ended with the stirring Lay Earth’s
Burdens Down, a commissioned work for the Portland Symphonic Girlchoir. The
ensemble then launched into a rousing encore of the favorite, Go Where I Send Thee.
mention that Wood River and Go Where I Send Thee are both part of their just-released first CD,
titled Gloria for its main work, the
setting by Vivaldi.
All in all,
it was a most pleasant evening of diverse music well-performed. The ensemble
actually looked like they enjoyed singing this music, a quality that is often
lacking. They sing again for Good Night and their Spring Concert is slated for
April 30. Mark your calendars!