Virginia Chorale Sings in the Seasons

In its 26th season the Virginia Chorale's opening program, Sing in the Seasons presented five centuries of song celebrating the seasons at three venues in early October. The set of songs for fall opened with a choral arrangement of Autumn Leaves by Joseph Kosma (1905-1969) arranged by A. Carter and followed by Dominick Argento (b.1927) Shakespeare Sonnet LXIV, Danny Boy (arr. Joseph Joseph Flummerfelt) and a nod to Halloween with Shakespeare's Double, Double, Toil and Trouble (Macbeth) set by Finnish composer Jaakko Mäntyjärvi (b.1963) using spoken effects and the chorus as a massed percussion instrument for the climax.

We heard the Chorale at First Presbyterian Church in Virginia Beach on October 2, 2009 and were pleased with the experience. A lively acoustical space and having text sheets enhanced our enjoyment. Having the Chorale in black, casual tops and slacks seemed to erase a barrier between stage and listener. The Virginia Beach audience's response was enthusiastic and genuine.

The Winter set began with Nocturnes by Hildor Lundvik (1885-1951), sung in English translated from the Norwegian. Using choral textures Lundvik conjures mid-winter cold and rain using spare harmonies evoking the constantly shifting weather and our emotional reactions to it. This was Steve's favorite piece of the program. Two madrigals followed: Thomas Morley (1558-1603) April is in my Mistress Face and, in contrast, a very contemporary O Mistress Mine by Matthew Harris (b.1956). The singing had clean endings and every word was understandable. The dynamics, from hushed tones to great exuberance came through clearly. Trois chansons de Charles d'Orléans, Debussy's only a cappella choral work, closed the set. It is a stunning, emotional evocation of love in the first song. There is lethargy in May in the second song with a background of tambourines calling one to dance. Lisa Relaford Coston was soloist with the Chorale, creating a Bizet-like scene. The last song, Winter, you're nothing but a villain (as rendered in English) suggests banishment for winter once-and-for-all. Not a bad idea this year!.

Spring arrived with a lyrically gentle Rise up, My Love, My Fair One (Song of Solomon) by Canadian church musician Healey Willan (1880-1968) followed by the familiar madrigal Now is the Month of Maying by Morley, again paired with contemporary composer Harris It was a lover and his lass. The set ended with Nightingales, a Robert Bridges poem set by Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) with a beautiful tenor line and a dramatic climax as if it were created by the birds themselves in a dawn wood.

Summer brought us Two Unaccompanied Part Songs by Frederick Delius (1862-1934), “to be sung of a summer night on the water," an a cappella vocalese with no words, only emotionally evocative sounds ranging from joy to shadows of gray. A very pretty setting of Robert Burns' O My Luve's Like a Red, Red Rose by contemporary American composer David Dickau (b.1953) came next. Artistic Director Scott Williamson says Nocturne was the first piece by local composer Aldolphus Hailstork with which he fell in love. The atmosphere of a summer night is created by humming lower voices with soprano soloist Amy Cofield Williamson singing the text. Bell-like tones of male voices bring the song to an end as the soprano repeats “summer night, summer night.”

Harris set When Daffodils Begin to Peer with text by Shakespeare in gospel mode with touches of a Shaker hymn and many of us broke into laughter. Personally, I was proud to be part of a Virginia Beach audience that gave back to the Chorale a spontaneous excitement at being treated to such a happy and fine evening of music. It proves the old adage “too much seriousness can be deadly.”

Summertime, the quintessential Gershwin song, appeared in an arrangement by R. Williams. Soprano Amy Cofield Williamson was backed by a Swingle Singer-like chorus, all to fresh effect with depth. Lovely!

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