Review of Cambridge Chorale Concert: Faeries
and Other Folk
Reviewer: Anne H. Matthews
program from this concert
The Cambridge Chorale's Spring Concert was a welcome diversion
on a dark and rainy Sunday afternoon. A chorus of about thirty
women singers, the Chorale performs twice a year at the First
Parish Church in Arlington. Their director, Kenneth Seitz, chooses
music written expressly for higher voices, and has a flair for
creating cohesive and entertaining programs that are both accessible
and challenging for the audience. Sunday's program featured various
works about fairies and "other creatures of fancy", with texts
taken from fairy tales, poems, and nursery rhymes, which seemed
particularly appealing on a gloomy day. The program included an
assortment of 19th and 20th-century composers ranging from Mendelssohn
and Schumann to Britten and Irving Fine.
The first half of the concert began with the Tripping Hither
chorus from Gilbert and Sullivan's operetta Iolanthe; it was
performed with brio and the appropriate tongue-in-cheek. In the
a cappella Meerfey (Mermaid) by Robert Schumann, the Chorale
did a fine job of illustrating the sea motifs taken up in turns
by each voice. Mr. Seitz's dynamics were particularly effective
at the end of this piece. These works, along with Les Nymphes
des Bois by Leo Delibes showcased the Chorale's excellent diction
and skill in switching between English, French, and German, as
well as good balance among the voice parts.
The high point of the first half came with Benjamin Britten's The Rainbow, a brief and evocative description of the apparition
and vanishing of a rainbow. In the a cappella section at the end
of the piece, on the words "One lovely moment/And the Bow was
gone", the voices faded out in unison on a high note, and the
effect was magical. The first half concluded with the seldom performed Peter Pan by Amy Beach. The inventiveness of this music belied
the preciousness and sentimentality of the text, and there were
many harmonic surprises which suggested a dark side to this fanciful
world. The Chorale's excellent tuning and responsiveness to Mr.
Seitz's direction, along with fine piano accompaniment by Paul
Carlson, made these performances delightful.
The second half opened with the exciting Scherzo for piano
from Mendelssohn's A Midsummer Night's Dream, expertly played
by Mr. Carlson and Mr. Seitz together. Next, the Chorale returned
with three amusing and more than whimsical settings of nursery
rhymes by Hanns Eisler, who as Mr. Seitz remarked was known as
the "East German Kurt Weill". The comparison was particularly
on the mark in the haunting, bluesy I Had A Little Doggie, featuring
a lovely solo by Cynthia Mork. The contrast here between the almost
ridiculously childish text and the masterful music, impossible
to imagine being sung by a child, revealed both the composer's
sophistication and sense of humor.
Fairy Dawn by Charles Villiers Stanford was the one work on
the program where the music did match the text; its smooth, predictable
harmonies and lulling rhythms combined with the Victorian poetry
to produce an effect like being read to sleep at bedtime. The
Chorale was comfortable and precise with the tricky English phrases
of the text, for example, "Springlets, brooklets/Greeny nooklets".
Their accuracy and enthusiasm carried the piece, although there
was not as much drama here as in the Britten or the Eisler.
The final selections were the charming settings by Irving Fine
of poems by Lewis Carroll from Through the Looking Glass. The
White Knight's Song was sweet and sad, with the Chorale delicately
evoking the wistful mood, and then the catchy, show tune-like Father William ended the program on an upbeat note.
During the concert Mr. Seitz preceded each selection with a
few brief comments that were very helpful to the listener in undertanding
the background and cultural context of the music. As appropriate,
he included a quick sketch of the composer's life and the circumstances
under which the music was composed. These remarks revealed the
care and thought that he puts into the programs, and were especially
useful in this program, where there was a lot more to the music
than the titles of the works might imply. It should also be noted
that other Chorale concerts have featured original music, including
some by Mr. Seitz, and I look forward to hearing more of that
at future concerts.
The Chorale always hosts a small informal reception for the
audience after their concerts, and this was a nice conclusion
to the afternoon. Mr. Seitz summed it up best himself at the start
of of the performance: "Fairies simply enjoy themselves and their
surroundings, and for the moment that's quite enough."