Virginia Chorale Sings Walden Pond



Virginia Chorale's Voices of Light

      As part of the Virginia Arts Festival the Virginia Chorale capped their twentieth season with the contemporary oratorio Voices of Light by Richard Einhorn (b.1952) accompanying the1928 silent film The Passion of Joan of Arc with the Virginia Symphony conducted by Shizuo Kuwahara. The quartet of soloists, Elizabeth L. Mead, soprano; Lisa Relaford Coston, mezzo-soprano; Daniel J. Markham, tenor; and Stephen Kelley, bass-baritone, gave a wonderful performance, backed by the powerful and professional chorus. The total experience was intensely wonderful, even overwhelming. In the film the searching eyes set in the beautiful face of Renée Falconetti created the character of Joan, the "Maid of Orleans," with passion.

      Born in 1412 in the village of Doremy, France, Joan heard voices that gave her directions for a mission to unite France during the middle of the Hundred Years War between England and France. After winning a number of battles that allowed Charles VII of France to be crowned at Rheims Cathedral with seventeen-year-old Joan at his side, she was captured by fellow Frenchmen and sold to the English and charged with heresy. She was then turned over to the Inquisition of the Catholic Church. A seven-month trial and ordeal (condensed into one day for the film) followed. By her actions she had challenged the social order of the day. She cut off her hair, wore men's clothes, commanded men in battle and insisted that her transvestism was ordered by "Our Lord." The peasants of her own day revered her as a saint. "In certain parts of France where Celtic belief survived, the word "maid" or "maiden" was a religious title signifying a type of divine being who had the power to cure people. (A.D. Hope in A Midsummer Eve's Dream, Viking, NY, 1970, pg 35). The conflict between conventional religion and personal action makes for high drama on screen.

      Einhorn's music completes and enhances the film with its texts by women of the eleventh through thirteenth centuries. His musical language ranges from Gregorian chant to Carl Orff to late twentieth century. He weaves a rich, exciting tapestry of music. The Chorale sang beautifully with intensity or gently as required and proved once again that Tidewater's only professional chorus is most excellent.

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Virginia Chorale Sings Walden Pond by Dominick Argento

      Dominick Argento (b.1927) has set text by Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862) from his book Walden in a choral piece of great serenity. The composer has carefully set the words so you can hear clearly and understand the text. With three cellos, harp and voices, Argento has woven together a work that is restrained, refined and exciting. The star is the pond, "earth's eye" Thoreau calls it, as it reflects the immensity of the sky and inspired him during his two year experiment in living in harmony with nature. The Virginia Chorale gave a wonderful performance with crisp diction projecting a deep understanding of the text and music on April 16 and 17 at the Monticello Arcade. We were seated close to the stage but on the second level. Even though the sound is much better than further back and downstairs where the sound muddies, having the text in hand was important.

      In Contemporary Composers, Eleanor Caldwell has written "...Argento regards the voice as primary and instruments as dim Platonic shadows." As one of the founders of Minnesota Opera, he has had an outlet for his stage music. "Argento is an original, with a completely individual voice and a style which, if by no means blandly populist, has proved to be durably popular with the audience and critics alike."

      Earlier in the program we heard Adolf Weidig's A Rondelay with text about the seasons that ended with how sweet life is in May, love's time to blossom.

      Lisa Relaford Coston was featured soloist in two spirituals in choral arrangements by Houston Bright, I Hear a Voice A-Prayin' and William Henry Smith's Ride the Chariot. Ms. Coston cuts loose with incredible power and once again thrilled her audience.

      Alto Elizabeth Songer was the featured vocalist in Perchance a Flower, written by her father Lewis A. Songer for her mother. This performance was a celebration of Mrs. Songer's life which recently ended. In an a cappella arrangement by Ward Swingle of Country Dances, the sound-space of the arcade ate the precision of this scat-like singing to make a mush of this piece.

      David Blackwell''s arrangement of Cole Porter's Let's Do It worked well but Night and Day was a disappointment. The arranger Andrew Carter used the entire chorale full out all of the time and lost the subtlety of the original. Without texts for the humorous Magazine Madrigals it was not always possible to make sense of the words.

      Two songs by the well-known Stephen Paulus came after intermission and before Walden Pond. Hymn to America was a celebration to help us to remember how it used to be when the emphasis was on caring for each other and the land we love. The Road Home is pretty, gentle, nostalgic music with swelling voices that lift the spirit without overly challenging the listener.

      We're happy that with the arrival of spring we can count on Robert Shoup and the Virginia Chorale to bring us yet another American Legacies program.

Virginia Chorale Sings Works by Sir John Taverner with Creo

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