Chapel Hill-Carrboro Community Chorus Revives Rarely-heard Schubert
by John W. Lambert
The Chapel Hill-Carrboro
Community Chorus, one of several outstanding choral organizations
in the Triangle, revived a rarely-heard Schubert Mass during its "Spring
Serenade" concert on May 17, presented in University United Methodist
Church. The ensemble now consists of around 110 singers, and the orchestra
assembled for this performance was at once among the largest (35 players
were listed in the program, although not all the named artists were
present) and the best to date. In addition, only one soloist was from
the ranks of the choir itself. This is not invariably a guarantee
of superior performances, but in this case the imported singers made
some significant contributions to the proceedings.
Sue T. Klausmeyer,
the group's conductor, has professional ties to Duke Chapel, so it
is not surprising that visiting soprano Patricia Donnelly Philipps
has sung there, with the Vocal Arts Ensemble; she has also appeared
previously in Chapel Hill. Mezzo-soprano Jolynda Bowers' and Wilson
Jeffreys' credits include appearances with Greensboro's Bel Canto
Company. Bass William Adams has made a name for himself in several
venues since becoming a faculty member at Elon University. From the
ranks of the choir came tenor William Kodros, a member of the CHCCC
since 1999. The instrumental ensemble included, variously, some of
our region's top woodwind and brass players, the distinguished harpist
Emily Laurance, organist Marianne Kremer, and a large, proficient
string section headed by Concertmaster Anne Reagin. Things are definitely
looking up, musically and artistically, in Chapel Hill!
No. 6, in E-Flat, D.950, the master's last work in this form, is a
rarity in live performances and on recordings. To our knowledge, it
has not been performed in the Triangle for at least 25 years, if ever.
It is a large score, written in 1828 (Otto Deutsch tells us) for "the
restored Minorite church in the Alersgrund suburb [of Vienna], where
Beethoven's body had been blessed in March 1827." Its first performance,
given on October 4, 1829, under the direction of Ferdinand Schubert,
Deutsch continues, celebrated "three events: the birthday of
the Emperor Franz I, the Festival of the Minorites, and the first
anniversary of the church's music society." It was not published
until 1865. It may be worth noting, as Deutsch observes, that "Brahms
arranged the vocal score, anonymously, for the publisher." (We
provide more than the usual background information because there were
no program notes.)
The piece consumed
around 55 minutes in performance. Some might have felt that this was
a bit too much for its six standard Mass sections, and indeed some
of them did seem to drag on a bit, but the music is always fresh and
often exciting, and it signaled the breaking of new compositional
ground for Schubert, for portions of it suggest not only Brahms but
also Berlioz. There are no flutes in the score, so the lower woodwinds
take on atypically prominent roles. The work is somewhat imbalanced.
Some sections are much longer than others (and we're not referring
only to the Credo). Schubert doesn't make much use of his soloists;
the work is largely for chorus and orchestra. There are some wonderful
interludes that suggest the best of the Rosamunde music.
The guest soloists
were nicely balanced, and in his brief appearance in Et incarnatus,
tenor Kodros more than held his own with Jeffreys and Philipps. Balance
with the orchestra seemed fine to these ears but it may be worth noting
that the dynamic levels were often excessive-this reading filled the
sanctuary and then some, so the performance brought to mind nearby
Hill Hall on big-orchestra nights. It might also be worth noting that,
as in Meymandi Hall (with its risers), the sound of the orchestra
seemed to this listener somewhat stratified or layered. The strings
were on the floor, and the winds, brass and timpani were above them,
with the choir behind the instrumentalists. This may have accounted
for the sometimes-excessive sound from the winds and brasses. During
the performance, it was apparent that Klausmeyer's attention was devoted
primarily to the singers, which is of course completely understandable.
A bit more attention to the band might have resulted in even better
balance-although in truth this writer was less troubled by this than
some other attendees seemed to be.The work of the choir was exemplary.
Diction was remarkably good, and scrupulous attention was paid not
only to attacks but also to clean releases. Throughout the evening,
it was apparent that the CHCCC has "arrived" and merits
consideration alongside our other leading choral organizations.
It was a real
treat to "discover" this relatively obscure choral work.
That the reasons for its obscurity may be read between the foregoing
lines should not diminish anyone's gratitude to the CHCCC for presenting
it here, in the Triangle. Because of the rarity of the score itself
and the overall excellence of the reading, this must count among the
CHCCC's finest hours to date. Bravo!
The first half hardly suggested the "serenade" promised
in the program's title, and only one work in the second half did.
That was Vaughan Williams' Serenade to Music (1938), first performed,
at Sir Henry ("Old Timber") Wood's golden jubilee, by 16
solo singers but given here in its alternate choral incarnation with
four soloists-the same quartet of visiting artists named above. It
was grandly realized but again the dynamics seemed ratcheted up several
notches too much for the space. Randall Thompson's "The Last
Words of David," beloved of high school and college choristers
of a certain age, and accompanied here by organist Kremer, came next;
it was good to revisit it again, for it seems to have been neglected
for a long, long time. John Rutter's arrangement of "When the
Saints Go Marching In" wasn't a serenade in any sense of the
word, but the reading included some pretty slick licks from clarinetist
Don Oehler, and the boisterous piece prompted protracted applause
and more than a few cheers from the crowd.