The Beauty of German Part Songs
The Majesty of Mozart
Christmas through the Ages
Italian Opera Goes to Church!


Jeffrey Ward Honored as New Director of The Canata Chorus

      Last evening, August 26, 2005 we attended a lovely reception held at Trinity Episcopal Church in Portsmouth, Virginia, to introduce Jeffrey Ward as the new Artistic Director of The Cantata Chorus. There is a wonderful new energy in this group of some forty-five singers who have renewed their commitment to the group's mission of providing the Hampton Roads community with professional quality concerts of choral masterworks, many old and some new. It was fun and enlightening to have an opportunity to network with long-time devoted singers and younger singers as well, some recruited by Mr. Ward from among his former students. Gail Bernick coordinated a spread worthy of a king.

The Cantata Chorus Sings Brahms and Schubert

      The cover of the program for Cantata Chorus tells the story that this fine singing group is back with a new artistic director, Jeffrey Ward, and a renewed enthusiasm and sense of purpose to present great choral music in Tidewater. After two years of calling Virginia Beach home, the group has returned to Trinity Episcopal Church in Portsmouth as their rehearsal home and one of their two concert venues. Christ and St. Luke's in Norfolk is the other.

      In a program titled The Beauty of German Part Songs, forty-six voices joined to sing part songs and Psalms by Franz Schubert (1797-1828) with Sharon Foxwell at the piano. The sanctuary's barrel-vaulted ceiling creates a warm acoustic space and the lively, happy tune Lebenslust, D609 opening the program was a joy. One of our personal favorites, Die Nacht, D983c was written for men's chorus but here the tenor solo was sung by Wendy Young. The song has an exciting solo part with the intimate quiet blend of male voices. In Stndchen, D920 the urgency in mezzo-soprano Asdis Bjork Jonsdottir's voice and the call and response format for male chorus was lovely. In Ellens zweiter Gesang (arranged by Brahms), soprano Joanna Rinehart was very effective in the solo part.

      Der 92 Psalm: Lied fr den Sabbath, D953, featured a quartet of vocalists and mixed choir. The bold, clear tenor voice of Jeff Flora was featured in most of the text with soprano Hope Lucart and alto Courtney Woodley, Bass Tom Miracle joined the tenor in a lovely blend of voices to end the piece. The women of the chorus sang a heartfelt Der 23 Psalm to end the Schubert first half with Ms. Foxwell at the piano throughout.

      George Stone joined Ms. Foxwell at the piano for Brahms' (1833-1897) Liebeslieder Walzer with its eighteen short choral songs with settings that feature various sections of the chorus. This music never becomes routine nor predictable. With the renewal of the Cantata Chorus with a new home base and a new conductor the listening audience can look forward to future programs of very polished performances of great choral literature.

Jeffrey Ward Leads the Cantata Chorus to New Heights

      Years ago there was a recording of Benjamin Britten conducting Mozart at the Maltings. As Jeffrey Ward, Artistic Director, conducted a program titled The Majesty of Mozart at Christ and St. Luke's I recalled the experience of that recording. He, like Britten, let the music breathe naturally and at the same time maintained a brisk tempo.

      Under Mr. Ward's baton the Cantata Chorus has come into its own once again. His hand movements are graceful and restrained as he urges fine performances from both chorus and soloists. Security of tempo allows his audience to relax, assured that every measure will flow gracefully.

      The chamber orchestra of twenty players, mostly drawn form the Virginia Symphony, with Sharon Foxwell at the organ, gave an insightful, polished setting for the soloists. Soprano Agnes Fuller Wynne had a beatific smile on her face and her voice had an ethereal beauty, especially in the Coronation Mass. In the Kyrie of the Missa Brevis in D Minor, K. 65 she and tenor Clifford Wells share a brief duet of great beauty. Later she sang a glorious duet with Lisa Coston. Mozart obviously adored the soprano voice and Agnes would not have disappointed him. In the Benedictus Walter Swan was outstanding in his brief solo woven into the quartet of voices with each vocalist highlighted briefly.

      The Veni Sancti Spiritus, K. 47, written when Mozart was twelve, was the program opener. The Vesperae solennes de confessore, K. 339 with its musical line punctuated by timpanist David Lindberg and Regina Coeli, K. 276 were also on the program. There was a passage that stands out in my memory: when the quartet was singing and the soprano is accompanied by bass (instrument) with the bass voice taking over. The clarity of the musical lines were visible in Ward's conducting. The reverberation of Christ and St. Luke's Gothic interior added rich overtones to the March 31, 2006 performance.

      Though Jeffrey Ward has accepted a teaching position at East Carolina University he plans to commute to continue the perfect fit of Cantata Chorus and Director. We listeners are blessed that they have found each other.

Christmas Through the Ages

      December 8, 2006 at Christ and St. Luke's and December 9, 2006 at Trinity Episcopal in Portsmouth where we heard The Cantata Chorus in Christmas through the Ages. Jeffrey Ward, Artistic Director, has an unhurried way of cherishing the music, serving the intent of the composer. The singers' response is to give precise, involved choral work with beauty and power. Alice Parker's arrangement of the fifteenth-century carol O Come, O Come Emmanuel was the opening selection. There was a reverence, even stillness within the sound. During Josquin des Pres Ave Maria. . .Virgo serena I closed my eyes and was transported back in time 500 years. There were other ancient pieces by Johann Walther (1496-1570), Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562-1621), Toms Luis de Victoria (1549-1611) and Hans Leo Hassler (1564 -1612). Victoria's O Magnum Mysterium moves like a warm wave creating a path through the night - dark, rich and lovely. The 19th and 20th century European music that followed with its ever expanding freedom of vocal expression kept our interest. Our favorite was two motets from Francis Poulenc's (1899 -1963) Quatre Motets pour the Temps de Nol which harks back to the energy of early music but with contemporary sonorities. An arrangement of Handel's Joy to the World by Frank Kuykendall with parts set for drama and contrast, an organ fanfare and shouted "The Lord is come" closed a lovely, satisfying evening. Organist Sharon Foxwell was outstanding.

Jeffrey Ward Leads the Cantata Chorus
in Two Italian Choral Masterpieces

      Spring finally arrived in Tidewater and a choral evening with the thirty-two committed singers of the Cantata Chorus offered the community a glorious celebration to match the glory of burgeoning life outside. The beautiful sanctuary of Christ and St. Luke's Church hosted the April 23, 2007 event with Jeffrey Ward conducting. The orchestra of twenty-seven players with the talented Sharon Foxwell at the organ, four soloists and the Cantata Chorus joined together under the handsome, young Dr. Ward to present an exhilarating evening of Gioacchino Rossini's (1792-1868) Stabat Mater and Giacomo Puccini's (1858 -1924) Messa di Gloria.

      The program, titled "Italian Opera Goes to Church! The Sacred Majesty of the Greats in Italian Opera" offered bel canto singing from the exuberant opening of Rossini's Stabat Mater (Standing Mother) to the building drama of hushed choral singing that swelled to a glorious crescendo to end the piece.

      Rossini's music is exuberant even though he is setting a text on the deep pain of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, standing by the cross weeping for her son. The acoustic overtones of the church enhanced the overall sound and Dr. Ward's natural-feeling unhurried pace let the voices bloom. Tenor Olindo Marseglia sang Cujus animam with passionate urgency. Quis est homo, a duet by sopranos Peggy Vaughan and Ann Scott, followed. Ms. Vaughan, from Greenville, North Carolina, sang with power and clarity. Ms. Scott, whose voice is one of Tidewater's vocal treasures, sang with a golden shimmer. Bass Les Wasserman's air, Pro peccatis and recitative Eia mater led into a wonderful vocal quartet, Sancta mater, Istud agas. The chamber orchestra played beautifully, enhancing the choral work that ranged from the mysterious and gentle music of Quando corpus to the glorious, all out drama of the ending In sempiterna saecula, Amen.

      The Puccini music has a sweet lightness in contrast to the grandeur of Rossini. Tenor Olindo Marseglia was featured in several solo sections of this mostly choral work. After the tenor line "Agnus Dei qui tollis peccata mundi" (Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world) repeated by bass Les Wasserman, the piece ends quietly with the words "dona nobis pacem" (grant us peace). Having experienced this beautiful music, my personal sense of peace and fulfillment was complete. The twenty-six piece chamber orchestra, featuring the playing of several outstanding instrumentalists from the Virginia Symphony was made possible by the generous support of the late Constance S. du Pont Darden (1904-2002).

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