Choir gives preview of Baltic tour

Last Friday, the Williams College concert and chamber choirs presented a program entitled “Lux Aeterna: Music for the Baltic White Nights” in Thompson Chapel. The title of the program foreshadowed the choir’s upcoming summer trip to the Baltic, where the sun never sets during the summer. “Lux Aeterna” is Latin for “Eternal Light.”

The first section of the program contained a variety of religious music. It began with “Spãséñiye Sõdélal” by Russian composer Pavel Chesnokov, showing a wide dynamic range and broad gestures. The next piece, Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy’s setting of Psalm 43 (“Riche mich, Gott”), was much more fiery, beginning with quick changes in dynamic and interplay between the men’s and women’s voices. In the second half of the piece, however, the voices merged, ending in a powerful chorale. The headlining piece, Edwin Fissinger’s “Lux Aeterna,” featured soloists Creston Herold ’06 and Alaya Kuntz ’04. For the most part, the soloists sang separately from the rest of the ensemble; the tone of the solos lent itself to an evocation of medieval church music. In contrast, the harmonies were quite modern, employing numerous impressionistic 9th, 11th and 13th chords.

Music major Katherine Saxon ’03 was the composer of the next selection, “Gloria.” The piece incorporated a series of modal harmonies, another way of reaching back to medieval church music. Arvo Pärt’s “Magnificat” featured a solo by Megan Van Dyke ’03, as well as adventurous harmonies and impressively controlled dynamics. The final piece during the first portion of the concert was Morten Lauridsen’s “O Magnum Mysterium.” To create a fuller sound, the choir left the risers and circled the interior perimeter of Thompson.

Next, the chamber choir performed a selection of works by American composers, including pieces by Brad Wells, the director of the choir, and Brian Katz ’03. The chamber choir also sang two pieces by Ned Rorem, the first of which, “Flowers for the Graces,” charmed the audience with its nimble, energetic spirit and unexpected ending. The second song by Rorem, “Love,” provided an appropriate contrast with its lyrical, contrapuntal textures.

The most memorable work of the evening was Folke Rabe’s “Rondes.” The piece began with the men making sounds reminiscent of a battle cry, while the women sang large glissandos. The choir then began to make mumbling and buzzing noises, while one of the members of the choir elbowed his way out and marched down the center aisle and out of the hall, loudly shutting the door upon exiting. Soon, several of the singers turned to different sections of the choir and began conducting in different meters and different tempi. In the subsequent segment, the singers shifted a little to one side on the risers, then to the other, until they were in an entirely different formation from when they started. The final section of the piece featured sounds reminiscent of birdcalls; one could hear both the audience and the choir chuckle to themselves.

Music from Bulgaria and Georgia highlighted the next portion, with the men singing “Svaneti,” a pre-Christian ritual song from Northwest Georgia characterized by robust sound and open-sounding harmonies. The women followed with a Bulgarian folk song entitled “Erghen Djado;” sharply accented and rhythmic, the composition had a very spirited air. All of the voices then joined for “Imeruli Naduri,” a Georgian work song that featured a strong solo from Shimon Rura ’03 and a good deal of interplay between the genders.

The final section of the concert consisted of two spirituals. “Precious Lord,” by Thomas Dorsey, again showcased the choir’s wide dynamic range. The second was an arrangement of Jack Halloran, the traditional spiritual “Witness.” Its upbeat character and healthy sound provided the concert with a stirring finale.

The choirs did an impressive job of showing their versatility through the ease with which they performed music of many different styles and from many different time periods.

Their controlled manipulation of dynamics was also impressive, giving a heightened sense of drama and excitement to the performance. After Friday night, it’s clear that they are prepared to make an excellent showing during their upcoming tour to the Baltic.

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