Master Chorale soars in harmonic flight

Published 11:00 a.m., Thursday, May 26, 2011

In another virtual voyage around the world, the Connecticut Master Chorale presented a selection of music harvested from 15 countries last Saturday at St. Rose of Lima Church in Newtown. Music director and conductor Tina Heidrich has a knack for finding material for her outstanding chorus to sing, mixing in new treasures with old favorites.

You could tell that something special was about to happen as the concert began with "Call of the Champions," written by John Williams for the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. The fanfare caught the sweeping feeling of flying over the Wasatch Mountains and Great Salt Lake, approaching the picture-perfect town known for its famous choir. Next stop was a quick hop to Germany, with "Hallelujah!" from Beethoven's only oratorio, "Mount of Olives." The four vocal sections cascaded back and forth from sopranos to basses with some strong support from the CMC Orchestra.

In the traditional Japanese folk song "Sakura," Joseph Jacovino's light touch on piano had the heavenly sound of a harp as he accompanied the CMC with its simple but elegant harmonies. Sopranos and altos sounded like little children as the tabernacle started rocking to conga drums in the joyous Zulu tune "Babethandaza" from South Africa. The mood turned emotional and full of homesickness for "Un Canadien Errant." Complex harmonies developed easily to the rumba beat of Cuban "Espiritu de Dios."

Following the "Chorus of the Philistines," the CMC Orchestra got to flex its muscles in "Danse Bacchanale" from "Samson et Dalila" by Camille Saint-Saens. Exotic winds coiled around like a snake charmer, building tension until Samson brought down the house.

The Italian pop tune "Luna Mezzo Mare" woke everyone up after an extended intermission. Argentine composer Ariel Ramirez' "Gloria" featured soprano Cindy Pena doing call and response with the chorale, as two recorders added high altitude Andean atmosphere. Tenors and basses brought out nice harmonic separation in a bonny a cappella arrangement of traditional Scottish "Loch Lomond."

Heidrich was ready to dance, with the audience clapping in 7/8 time as sopranos and altos sang the Greek folk song "Gerakina." Trumpets set the stage (or should I say screen?) for more dancing from "Zorba the Greek." Clarinets and drums picked up the pace for the infectious second theme, the kind that works itself into your head and won't go away. I can still picture Anthony Quinn and Alan Bates dancing on the beach.

Tenor David Jurman's solo led into the chorale's well blended harmony and tone quality in New Zealand composer David Hamilton's "Only the Moon Has Secrets." Singing in Romanian, they kept tricky rhythms under control in the lively "Chindia."

Returning back to the U.S.A., they closed with a full-fledged glorious version of "Battle Hymn of the Republic," with the audience singing along in the final stanza. They reprised "Luna Mezzo Mare" for a clap-along encore. I think a lot of people were driving home humming and thinking about making travel plans.