Circumnavigating the globe with the Connecticut Master Chorale

Published: 06:39 p.m., Thursday, May 27, 2010

At the end of its 11th season, the Connecticut Master Chorale gave another polished gem of a concert by taking a musical tour around the world, stopping in 16 countries. Wearing a captain's hat and her good luck dress, music director and conductor Tina Johns Heidrich led her ensemble in an enjoyable excursion at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown.

Fifty-five fine vocalists are the heart of CMC, yet their singing is so well-blended that no individual voice stands out from the group. They were joined by a well-balanced orchestra of about 30 musicians who truly complemented the vocalists.

It was a fun flight, starting and ending with traditional American tunes, "America the Beautiful" and "The Star-Spangled Banner," refreshingly arranged with unusual phrasing and articulation.

Departing from the U.S. a little after 8 p.m. Saturday night, the first stop was in the British Isles for an early Sunday morning service. Joseph Jacovino Jr. played solemn organ music as the chorale sang one of the finest hymns of the 20th century -- "Sine Nomine," by Ralph Vaughn Williams.

With a hop up to heaven, the chorale continued with "How Lovely Is Thy Dwelling Place" from "A German Requiem," by Johannes Brahms. The rich orchestration and transcendent choir provided sonority and serenity.

A cappella singing can create a special acoustical impact. The Serbian "Svjati Boze," by Simikic, had a haunting ethereal quality, and the traditional Kenyan "Wana Baraka" built up to delightful emotional release.

Going wild, while under control, the vocalists sounded like Indian tablas in the passionate propulsive "Dravidian Dithyramb," by Victor Paranjoti. Soprano Cindy Pena and guitarist Alan Blackstock were featured in the beautiful Irish song, "Home and the Heartland" from "Riverdance."

With tambourine bouncing, the chorale came back after intermission singing a joyful Israeli folk song, "Ale Brider." Heidrich happily led the singers for some familiar Mexican mariachi music, "Cielito Lindo." Danger was lurking when the group performed "In the Hall of the Mountain King" from Grieg's "Peer Gynt Suite." The slow march built to a gradual crescendo, and the chorus was in frenzy at the finish.

Traveling by gondola, their voices were rising and falling and Jacovino's keyboard sounded like a harp in the French "Barcarolle" from "Tales of Hoffman," by Jacques Offenbach. Delicate women's voices were uplifting in the Russian piece, "Turn Balalayka."

Heidrich approved dancing in the pews for "Kyrie" from Glenn McClure's "A Caribbean Mass." Vocalists hung together through tricky rhythms in the joy ride with steel drums and a rock band. The men combined for some exotic sounds of the Far East in the Korean "Arirang."

Barely showing jet lag or fatigue, everyone sang and clapped along for an encore of "Ale Brider." While flying around the world, Heidrich and CMC were solidly grounded in choral excellence.