Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 30, 2010

Haydn, Lauridsen

Berkshire Choral Festival, Sheffield, MA
July 24, 2010
by Terry Larsen

Extended compositions for orchestras and large choruses can be found as far back as the English Oratorio tradition of the mid 18th Century (i.e. Handel's "Judas Maccabeus" performed so very successfully last week by BCF). Significant sacred and secular texts coupled with the remarkable variety of timbres found in the families of instruments and voices, and the dramatic range of possible dynamics inspire composers and audiences alike. However, finding the delicate balance of volume between voices and instruments can be difficult, especially if the event features the larger orchestra used in Romantic and modern era works. BCF has found a winning solution to this problem by using an orchestra of about 40 players to complement the more than 200 singers in the Festival Chorus.

This balance of sonic forces was evident from the outset as Grant Gershon led a beautiful rendition of the "Paukenmesse." The orchestra played with precision and a warm, full-bodied tone that always balanced with the chorus and soli. This orchestral sensitivity enabled the chorus to project text, articulation, and phrasing, especially in the softer sections, while singing with a lovely timbre. Haydn's solo parts for this piece are not the extended, flashy vocal displays of sonic sequins found in many works, but rather discrete jewels that highlight the richness of the fabric woven by chorus and orchestra. The soloists executed their roles with grace, exceptional skill, and notably complementary timbres - their singing of the Benedictus quartet was sublime.

Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna" has become one of the most popular pieces in the canon. The chorus and orchestra lovingly embraced its extended melodic lines studded with gems of dissonance, lush textures, and compelling texts, bringing an effortless grace to a piece that is much harder to perform than it might seem.

Two other aspects of the performance deserve comment. Dr. Laura Stanfield Prichard's program notes and pre-concert comments supplied historical background that was informative and entertaining. After the concert, members of the chorus moved through the audience extending greetings and gratitude for our attendance. Their smiles, flushed from this beautiful moment, reflected the joy felt by each listener.