NEWTOWN -- Following their U.S. premiere of Karl
Jenkins' (b. 1944) sensational "Stabat Mater" at
Lincoln Center in January, the Connecticut Master
Chorale (CMC) gave the oratorio its first performance
in Connecticut last Sunday. St. Rose of Lima Church
in Newtown is not on Broadway in New York City like
Avery Fisher Hall, but the acoustics may be better.
No doubt music director and conductor Tina Johns
Heidrich is willing to perform Jenkins in either
In 2007, her CMC gave an impressive presentation
of Jenkins' propulsive "Requiem," certainly no ordinary
Mass for the dead.
The 55 gifted vocalists in the chorale blended
with a strong orchestra of over 25, filling the
church with a far-reaching collection of music exploring
the grieving process.
They were joined by two contrasting mezzo-sopranos,
traditional sounding Wendy Gerbier, and Heather
Petrie, singing ethnic vocals.
Their duets were heartbreakingly divine, as Gerbier
sang in English and Latin, while Petrie sang in
Arabic and Aramaic, the common Middle East language
ages ago. Petrie's voice immediately transported
me to the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem in her "Incantation."
Gerbier's passionate "Lament" was delivered with
sensitivity and deep sadness.
"Stabat Mater" is rooted in Roman Catholic liturgical
poems set on the meditations of the Blessed Mother
Mary during her son's crucifixion. Jenkins added
several additional texts for his multi-ethnic score.
Regardless of anyone's religious persuasion, Jenkins
has the ability to tap into some universal feelings
with the CMC reaching some incredible heights.
The chorale created a sense of transcendence
from the mortal world in "Sancta Mater" as Mary
attempted to comfort her dying son. Despite the
sadness of the situation in the storyline, Jenkins
wrote some beautiful harmonies as in "And the Mother
Jenkins used a simple tambourine and bongos,
along with woodwinds, especially the oboe, creating
exotic, even mystical atmospheres. His music can
be all over the map, with surges of energy interspersed
with inviting combinations of style. It may actually
serve as an exquisite tonic for anyone going through
the grieving process.
You can count on Jenkins to complete the voyage
arriving at last in Paradise, leaving all previous
feelings of pain way behind. An immediate vocal
standing ovation followed the catharsis of a chorale,
with Heidrich choked up with emotion.
The concert opened with "Four American Folk Hymns"
as arranged by Mack Wilberg (b. 1955), who was recently
appointed as music director of the Morman Tabernacle
The 19th-century melodies had crisp clear vocals,
developing the four sections with forceful steady
buildups, usually arriving at the Pearly Gates at
full strength. The chorale sang Wilberg's simple
yet effective arrangements of traditional folk and
gospel music with elegance and grandeur.
In their 10th year together, Heidrich and the
CMC have never sounded better. They will celebrate
some highlights from their first decade on May 16,
again at St. Rose of Lima Church.