Uplifting Concert by Connecticut Master Chorale
NEWTOWN — Saturday's concert by the Connecticut
Master Chorale, directed by its founder Tina Johns Heidrich, was an
uplifting evening of music. The program was dedicated to the memory
of Gilbert Fong (1940-2004), a generous and enthusiastic member of
the Chorale since its 1999 beginning.
The chorus, which is always expected to sing with the finest of tone
and blending, seemed to outdo itself in this concert in Saint Rose
of Lima Church. The program consisted of two works in praise of God:
Antonin Dvorak's "Te Deum," a 20-minute work, and Felix
Mendelssohn's "Hymn of Praise," an hour-long work, also known as his
Symphony No. 2.
Dvorak (1841-1904) and Mendelssohn (1809-1847) came from
significantly different religious backgrounds: Dvorak was a devout
Roman Catholic, while Mendelssohn's family converted from Judaism to
Christianity. (Mendelssohn covered both traditions by writing the
cantatas "Elijah" and "Saint Paul."
Dvorak's four-part "Te Deum" was commissioned for his visit to
America in 1892 and in celebration of the 400th anniversary of the
Columbus voyage to the New World.
This exuberant work begins with a pulsating timpani and a
Baroque-like splendor in the orchestra; the chorus soon joins in
their chant of praise. Soprano Louise Fauteux, with a full and
golden voice, sang the quieter contrasting solo portion.
Bass-baritone Brendan Cooke opened the second section, "Tu Rex
gloriae," with boldness and firm tone.
The chorus, a bit subdued in the early portions, came alive in the "Aeterna
fac," where each choral section in turn sang the gentle, swaying
melody with great warmth. In the joyful conclusion, choral
"Alleluias" punctuated the brashness of cymbals, trumpets, and
timpani. It was a performance that captured the work's essence — a
devout composer's great faith in his god.
Heidrich can be expected to program the unusual in choral works.
This time she chose Mendelssohn's "Hymn of Praise" (1840), labeled
by the composer as a "symphonic cantata." This work also was
commissioned to celebrate a 400th anniversary: the invention of the
printing press. It is a work of brilliant choral, solo, and
orchestral writing. One wonders why it is not performed more often.
A lengthy three-movement orchestral introduction precedes the
entrance of the chorus and organ. Immediately, trombones announce a
theme, not unlike a hunting call, which is used throughout the work.
The orchestral writing is pure Mendelssohn, warm in its romantic
glow. (Heidrich omitted one movement to save the energy of the
chorus who had to stand during the lengthy prelude.) The second
movement, waltz-like in the manner of Tchaikovsky, was deliciously
delivered by the orchestra. The chorus then enters in a dramatic
burst of German romanticism, singing praise on the notes of the
The "Hymn of Praise" is in ten segments. Mendelssohn chose Biblical
passages not only for praise, but for life as a passage from
darkness to light. As in all cantatas, chorus and soloist alternate
for variety. Once again, soprano Louise Fauteux proved exceptional
in strength and tone. Richard Slade evinced a well-rounded tenor
voice, ever on pitch and never straining.
The Chorale sang the work in English and must be congratulated on
the clarity of its projection of the words. One particularly
effective portion has the tenor querying: "Watchman, will the night
soon pass?" With the emotions of both tenor and orchestra increasing
with each repeat of the question, the soprano then enters with a
ringing, clarion call that summons the chorus to sing happily of the
departing night. The work concludes with both trombones and chorus
repeating the original theme, providing a glorious ending to the
"Hymn of Praise."
Could any fault be found with the chorus and orchestra in this
performance? Nothing that I can think of. The voices were never
forced, always on the mark, and Heidrich's tempi seemed just right
throughout. The 25-piece orchestra sounded double that size and
performed admirably, as did organist Joseph Jacovino, Jr. It was
about as good as any choral concert can get.
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