On Sunday May 4, CONCORA presented its closing concert of the 2009-2010 season. This “Sonic Spectacular” was, well, spectacular. I didn’t sing in this program (not all CONCORA singers participate in each program), but as I’ve said to our Artistic Director Richard Coffey, the next best thing to singing with CONCORA is being part of its audience. And oh my, was I glad to be among the listeners for this amazing musical experience. From my seat in the front row of the balcony at Hartford’s acoustically and visually appealing Immanuel Congregational Church, I was able to take in the full spectacle – aural and visual – that CONCORA and their guests, the men of The Hartford Chorale, presented. I’ll write more about my own impressions later (I’m still a bit stunned by it all), but in the meantime, you can enjoy this review from The Hartford Courant:
A Brilliant Season Finale By Concora
By JEFFREY JOHNSON
The Hartford Courant
May 5, 2009
CONCORA closed its 2008-2009 season at Hartford's Immanuel Congregational Church with a program of musical works that were searching, often restlessly, for repose. It was a brilliantly conceived yet demanding program — for the singers and the audience.
The adventure started with the opening organ prelude in the "Kyrie" from the Messe Solonelle [sic], Op. 16, by Louis Vierne. CONCORA responded with a sound that sparkled and flashed.
Next was Scottish composer James MacMillan's setting of three verses from Psalm 96, called "A New Song." The choir produced a light and feathery sound work and sang the attractive embellishments with buoyancy.
Two a cappella works followed: "Take Him, Earth, for Cherishing" by Herbert Howells, and the "Ave Maria" by Franz Biebl. Howells composed the first of these works for a Kennedy memorial service in 1964. CONCORA showed adeptness at shifting between radically differing balances, but the human side of the work transcended its technical fireworks. The men of The Hartford Chorale joined the men of CONCORA to perform the Biebl in its original scoring. This gentle work shifts between chanting and a haunting ritornello (recurring passage), and this performance filled Immanuel with vibrant, rich sound — a moment of uninterrupted peacefulness in a program of vivid expressions.
The first half closed with the Messe Solonelle [sic] by Jean Langlais. Organists David Westfall and Jason Charneski were brilliant throughout, coloring the sound with an exceptionally varied palette.
The Langlais Messe Solonelle [sic] is the equivalent of a concerto for orchestra written for choir. Every part is tricky and worthy of a soloist. CONCORA met its challenges, closing the work with an attenuated sound to voice this cold war “Agnus Dei” — a mixture of mercy and anxiety.
After intermission the configuration of the choir shifted into an antiphonal structure (where groups sing separately and then together). This configuration changed the sound and made the contrasting speeds of text in the "Prager Te Deum" by Petr Eben dance with a dark energy.
It was the famous setting of Psalm 90 by Charles Ives that anchored the second half of the program. "What sort of mind," asked conductor Richard Coffey from the stage, "conceived such a thing?" Coffey was referring to a celebrated passage in which Ives moves the choir from a unison middle C into a breathtakingly prismatic 22 parts then back as quickly to unison middle C during the text: "For all our days are passed away in thy wrath, we spend our years as a tale that is told." CONCORA presented the music in deep reverence and it received […] an uncluttered and direct emotional expression.
Howard Hanson's mystical and soulful setting from Psalm 8, "How Excellent Thy Name," was hard to appreciate after the Ives. Had the order been reversed, Hanson would have had a better chance. The program ended with the "Kyrie" from the Messe Solonelle [sic] by Charles-Marie Widor, filling the church with a glorious sound so impressive that it received an instantaneous standing ovation. Coffey responded by encoring the entire work.