Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 22, 2013

Lauridsen & Vaughan Williams

Berkshire Choral Festival
Berkshire School, Sheffield, MA
July 20, 2013
by Michael J. Moran

Guest conductor Jerry Blackstone, director of choirs and chair of the conducting department at the University of Michigan School of Music, led the Springfield Symphony Orchestra, the Chorus of the Berkshire Choral Festival, and two vocal soloists in compelling performances of music by Lauridsen and Vaughan Williams in the second concert of BCF’s 2013 season. 

At age 70, Morton Lauridsen may be considered the dean of living American choral composers.  A longtime music professor at the University of Southern California, he wrote the 17-minute cycle “Mid-Winter Songs,” setting five poems by Robert Graves, in 1980 for USC’s centennial. The music is more agitated than usual for Lauridsen, from the chilling “Lament for Pasiphae” to the playful “Mid-Winter Waking” and the dramatic “Intercession in Late October,” with its long poignant ending. The men and women of the chorus captured the shifting moods of the music with clarity and assurance, and with sensitive accompaniment from the orchestra. 

Two of the greatest works for chorus and orchestra by the English master Ralph Vaughan Williams completed the concert. He wrote the “Five Mystical Songs” to four poems by George Herbert (two songs are based on the same poem) for the Worcester Three Choirs Festival in 1911. Baritone Timothy Lefebvre was a mellifluous soloist, and the chorus was especially moving in its wordless passages during the sublime central song, “Love Bade Me Welcome.” The orchestral playing throughout this radiant cycle was suitably rapturous. 

Closing the program after intermission was the cantata “Dona Nobis Pacem,” written in 1937 to biblical texts and Civil War poems by Walt Whitman for the Huddersfield Choral Society as a plea by Vaughan Williams for peace in a world increasingly threatened by war. Chorus and orchestra were joined by baritone Lefebvre and soprano Sun Young Chang for a viscerally exciting performance.

Two among many vocal highlights were: Lefebvre’s tender singing of the words “my enemy is dead, a man as divine as myself” in Whitman’s poem “Reconciliation;” and Chang’s recurrent and heartrending cries of “Dona nobis pacem,” especially when echoed by the chorus at the hushed close.