Thursday, April 17, 2008

“CONCORA forced into encore by rabid audience”

CONCORA’s April 13 performance of Sergei Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil (Vespers), presented in the resonant sanctuary of the Church of Saint Thomas the Apostle in West Hartford, has taken its place on the list of my life’s “Top Ten” musical experiences (read more about this performance here). We received two stunning reviews in the Hartford press.

The Hartford Courant’s Jeffrey Johnson included these comments in his review:

“The ensemble, conducted by artistic director Richard Coffey, triumphed. They met the challenges of a lengthy work set for unaccompanied voices in textures that differ radically from the balances of the standard Western choral tradition. They sang in Russian and made the text understandable. They took us through 15 movements and maintained a clear and uninterrupted sense of purpose, direction and momentum. A bass section with exceptional range (sometimes as low as B-flat) carries this music, and CONCORA consistently projected a deep foundation that became a kind of sonic incense. There was also some exceptional high tenor singing, particularly in the ninth movement (“Blessed Art Thou, O Lord”). … The alto section seemed ever-present, and mezzo-soprano Cynthia Mellon delivered the low alto solo in the second movement with deep resonances while the sun set, darkening the windows in the church. The parts for male soloists (bass soloist Alain Frogley, and tenor soloists Vladimir Morosan in the opening movement; Morosan in the fourth movement; Ehren Brown in the fifth movement; and Gabriel Löfvall in the ninth movement) most often emerged and ended suddenly but these are always significant moments in the text and were delivered by the Concora soloists with intensity and with a compelling sense of drama. … Most impressive were the balances in the eighth movement where intertwined layers of sound reverberated and collided to thrilling effect in the vast open spaces of the church. There were moments also when the choir created sounds that rang like bells as in the opening word of the seventh movement “Slava” (glory). … Coffey's pacing was superb. While separating the Vespers from the Matins with a pause lasting about a minute, he never allowed the energy to slow. He created a fantastic sense of culmination in the Gospel [that is, the Magnificat] and Doxology (movements 11 and 12), and just as this sound finished echoing in the church began the first of two quiet hymns of reflection: — “Dnes' spaseniye miru byst.” … The performance lasted just over an hour. The concentration made time seem motionless, and yet when leaving the Church of St. Thomas the Apostle it was surprising to see that it was still dark outside. Inside it felt like morning.” [citation below]

And in The Hartford Advocate, self-described “rocker” Dan Barry chose CONCORA’s performance as the event of choice for the weekend. Among his comments:

"The All Night Vigil was written for the Russian Orthodox church, but as a whole it's actually very creamy and ambient. … On Sunday… the [music] and the venue were especially well-matched. The balance between [the singers] was phenomenal, with each section adjusting their volume so as to be consistently audible. Quite a feat, when you consider how difficult and rare it is for sound techs with expensive mixing boards to do the same thing. The men's voices of CONCORA deserve particular recognition for their performance. In any choral piece, men's voices are able to hit the lower, more fundamental notes, and thus do more of the heavy lifting. But Rachmaninoff, being quintessentially Russian, wrote the men's parts as though for draft horses, assigning them complex mixtures of low notes held for vast lengths of time. What's more, the Vigil isn't the kind of piece a chorus can just blast its way through; it's marked by extraordinary control and restraint. CONCORA deftly managed their breath control, dynamics, and volume balance across the entire performance – and the men came off with a rich, golden timbre besides. (Not to take anything away from the women, and especially not from Cynthia Mellon, who did masterful solo work in the second song). At the end of the evening, the audience was so enthralled by the performance that they applauded the chorus for a solid three minutes! The bedazzled chorus offered an encore - not exactly typical in the world of choral music."

At a time when the local press is cutting back on reviews of the arts, it is very gratifying to see these two thoughtful reviews of this exceptional performance.

CONCORA offers a repeat performance of Rachmaninoff's All-Night Vigil on April 20 at 5:00 p.m. in the lovely sanctuary of The Church of St. Mary on Broadway in Providence, Rhode Island. For tickets or more information, call 401-274-3434. A nice preview of our performance appears in the April 17 edition of the Providence Journal at http://www.projo.com/music/content/wk_concora_04-17-08_Q09PK88_v7.1ca4e30.html

CITATIONS
“Concora Performs Flawless Vigil.” The Hartford Courant, April 15, 2008.
http://www.courant.com/entertainment/music/hc-vespersrev.artapr15,0,2142451.story
“CONCORA forced into encore by rabid audience.” The Hartford Advocate, April 17, 2008
http://www.hartfordadvocate.com/article.cfm?aid=7294

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