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Ringing in the spring with music

 

Is it finally spring?  After this past winter, one can never tell despite the great temperatures lately.

One sign that it might actually be spring is that the choral groups, after the holiday/New Year festivities, are returning with their spring concerts, some related to the Easter season. 

The University Chorale at the University of Maryland took a different approach for their spring concert.  In a sleek 70 minute concert they covered 400 years of music from many different countries, going from Renaissance music to a world premier by an American composer.   The concert was well chosen and executed, giving us a lot of variety in the process.

The centerpiece was the Bach Cantata #196 “The Lord is Mindful of us.”  It is surprisingly short for a Bach cantata – opening sinfonia and chorus, a soprano aria followed by a duet, and a closing chorus.  It ran well under 15 minutes and yet was the most substantial work on the program.

The Chorale had an interesting approach to the work – the full chorus of about three dozen singers with a string quartet, double bass and organ for the instrumental ensemble.  That is probably more voices than Bach usually had and probably fewer instruments, but it worked very well.  The somber opening instrumental piece was well played and soprano Anna Mendham did well with her reflective aria.  These were interspersed with livelier choral pieces that the Chorale did very well, keeping the often dense counterpoint clear and easy to follow.

Before the Bach we went back to Renaissance music, beginning with several sacred pieces.  We covered a lot of territory here with the appropriately titled opening work “Sing Joyfully” by British composer William Byrd and the more serious hymn by Spanish composer Victoria.   A little out of place was the lovely “Grant us Piece” by Mendelssohn, a typically lyrical and flowing work by this composer, beginning in the bass and gradually spreading to the full chorus.

Then the ensemble broke apart into smaller groups for a set of madrigals.  These pieces concerned much less heavenly themes than the preceding pieces but were very different from one another.  The subdued madrigal by Des Prez about lovers parting was very different from the upbeat and suggestive work by Arcadelt about a peasant girl Margot working in the vineyards.   Different from both works was the stately madrigal by Monteverdi, elegant despite its theme of “Sweet and tender kisses.” 

After the Bach we went to four choral songs by Brahms.  While not usually considered a lyrical composer, these four settings of poems by German poets showed Brahms could master melody and mood with the best of them, and the settings are full of that autumnal atmosphere so central to this composer.  The themes of these songs – “O Lovely Night,” “Evening Song,” and “Late Autumn” are certainly typical of Brahms.

Also not considered a lyrical age is modern American classical music, yet there were surprises here too.  The works by Samuel Barber and the lesser known Cecil Effinger were very lyrical and accessible, with oboist David Dickey adding more modern counterpoint to the voices.  The selections from “Old American Songs” showed Aaron Copland at his folksy Americana best, while the world premiere of Stacy Gibb’s “This Little Light of Mine” presented a lyrical hymn that gradually grew into a lively spiritual to bring the concert to a rousing note.

Despite all the musical styles and time periods covered, the Chorale sang well throughout.  The conductor chores were split between Cindy Bauchspies and Allan Laino, and when one was conducting, the other was back in the chorus singing.  In fact, while Bauchspies was conducting the Bach cantata, Laino was one of the soloists for the duet. 

It would have been nice for the words to the English songs were also contained in the playbill, and for the period between Bach and Brahms to have been covered with some additional selections.  But the concert was well done and managed to cover a good deal of ground for just over an hour.

The University of Maryland will celebrate Maryland Day on Saturday April 26, an open house with many free activities and that is often when the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center announces their new season.  The current season still has several offerings, including the jazz of the Kenny Barron Platinum Quintet on April 25, a performance of Anna Deavere Smith’s “Los Angeles 1992,” a play about the Rodney King riots, starting May 3, and the Post Classical Ensemble with South American music on May 10.

For more information on the University season, call (301) 405- 2787 or go online to www.claricesmithcenter.umd.edu.

3 stars                  

David Cannon

Mocovox Entertainment Critic

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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