Celebrating mores than 25 years as a women's chorale

     
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Review of Cambridge Chorale Concert: Faeries and Other Folk

Reviewer: Anne H. Matthews

View 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."

 

 
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