Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

August 2, 2009

Vespers Opus 37

Berkshire Choral Festival, Sheffield, MA
August 1, 2009
by Debra Tinkham

Twenty eight years ago, Berkshire Choral Festival's (BCF) voices of summer began its beautiful music, and this concert continued the tradition. Dale Warland, choral composer and conductor conducted Rachmaninoff's "Vespers Opus 37," an a cappella program. The Springfield Symphony Orchestra had the night off.

The work is all titled the All-Night Vigil. When performed originally, as part of a liturgical service, it could conceivably last as long as fifteen hours. That's a lot of church. There are 15 sections and the third, a Rachmaninoff original, known as "Blessed Is the Man," was beautifully harmonic and somber. The sounds of music were pure and eerie. Section five, "Lord Now Lettest Thou..." from the gospel of Luke, with its moving dynamics, long phrases and very low bass, sings of "...enlightening the Gentiles." The unification of voices in section seven, "Verses before the Six Psalms," from Luke 2 and Psalm 51, shortly proclaimed "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will among men."

Joyful, festive, dynamic and harmonic would describe section eight's "Praise the Name of the Lord." Allelluias" populated many sections of this vigil, but they were so musically beautiful, there could have been more. "Blessed Art Thou, O Lord" with sopranos and altos, then tenors and basses, then sopranos and altos, and a fast moving tenor and bass finale summed it all up with an even bigger building crescendo of SATB (soprano, alto, tenor, bass).

Sections ten through fifteen were equally as uplifting and invigorating as the previous nine. Warland looked simultaneously energized and exhausted. This was a triumphant evening performance that started on sweet notes and ended with victoriously abundant sweet notes. The lovely voices of summer of BCF continue their Saturday concerts in August.