With the single exception of 20th century composer Daniel Pinkham’s “Wedding Cantata,” the singers and instrumentalists of the Choral Society of the Hamptons went for Baroque in their spring concert last week—familiar territory for this fine and fearless aggregation of local singers.
Performing last Sunday in the East Hampton Presbyterian Church, and led by guest conductor Walter Klauss, the somewhat abbreviated chorus (in number but not in sound) acquitted itself with its usual pure and devoted presentation of classic church music. If it was a somewhat buttoned up, devout program to celebrate the rush of spring, it was nevertheless nicely delivered with spirit, integrity and precision.
Accompanied by Thomas Bohlert at the organ, the South Fork String Ensemble and a quartet of guest soloists, the Choral Society opened its program with the Magnificat in D by the 18th Century Bohemian composer Jan Dismas Zelenka. Far less well known than his contemporaries J.S. Bach, (Zelenka taught one of Bach’s many sons), Handel, Vivaldi and Telemann, Zelenka is currently undergoing something of a rediscovery.
The Magnificat is a serenely satisfying composition, sometimes echoing Bach, but more often expressed through Zelenka’s own, distinctive imagination. The piece begins with a lush succession of extended phrases, done with excellent firmness by the chorus.
Interruptions by soprano Nonie Schuster-Donato and mezzo soprano Barbara Fusco led to an interweaving of vocal and orchestral figures, particularly intriguing with an oboe and cello underpinning to the mezzo’s aria. The piece ended with an expected, Baroque figured fugue, executed with spirit and crisply clean choral work.
The Pinkham piece followed, opening with a dissonant and rich and rolling melody, complemented by an orchestral interlude and then by tenor Martin Doner and soprano Nonie Schuster-Donato. A hushed male chorus followed, uttering questioning phrases that musically expressed the text, in which the groom is apparently momentarily deserted by his beloved.
All is well in a moment, though, with the appearance of a jolly, jaunty melody, cleanly and lightly sung by the women’s chorus. And the piece closes with a hushed, sensitive and sensible “Amen” expressed in long and lovely phrases.
And then, the major work of the afternoon arrived: Mozart’s “Missa Brevis” (short mass) written when the musical genius was 18 years old. The expected, exalted and gorgeous melodies, stated and then embroidered cleverly were, as evidenced by this small mass, obviously articulated within Mozart from a very early age.
The mass’s “Kyrie,” a brief, sweet, musical statement, gives way to a developed, though short “Gloria,” begun by the tenor, embroidered by the chorus, and entered into by the soprano, mezzo and bass Adam Alexander.
The chorus carries the major weight of the “Credo,” resolving itself into an intriguing duet by the bass and soprano. The “Sanctus” involves an intermingling pair of melodies by the men’s chorus, which was in excellent voice last Sunday. The “Benedictus” and “Agnus Dei” contain some of the most elegantly lovely melodies of the Mass, with sweetly flowing phrases handed back and forth between the soloists and the chorus. And it all ends with Mozartian humor, with a 21-bar “Amen” that extends and extends (“Amen, Amen, Amen—) and concludes percussively with a decisive and punctuating AMEN!
The afternoon concluded with a packed “Chandos Anthem No. 6” by George Frideric Handel. Handel, as usual, pulls out all the stops in this extended anthem, which begins with an orchestral prelude bursting with baroque figures and runs. Solos handed back and forth among the soloists contain filigrees and embellishments that were handled “Handely” by the four singers last Sunday, and the chorus was also in fine fettle, in the fugues and contrasting moods from major to minor and then back to major, which led to an expected, super theatrical series of repeated “Alleluias.”
It was a fitting finale to a tastefully wrought, mellifluously and impressively sung afternoon of devoutly delivered, reverential spring song.
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One fine body…