Concert Choir showcases 20th-century composers

Last Friday night, Thompson Memorial Chapel reverberated with the Concert Choir’s renditions of pieces by 20th-century composers Benjamin Britten and Maurice Durufle.

The stunning interior of Thompson Memorial Chapel provided a fitting setting for the Concert Choir’s beautiful end-of-year recital.

The 44 members of the choir filed on to the stage to take their places in the semicircular space. The audience consisted of many townspeople, families and a few students. Clay Artist in Residence and Director of Choral and Vocal Activities Brad Wells, who has been the backbone of the thriving choral program of the College for many years, directed the choir. Edwin Lawrence, instructor in music, accompanied the pieces on the organ that resounded throughout the hall.

The first piece played was Rejoice in the Lamb by Britten, written in 1943 immediately after Britten’s return to England after a three-year stay in the United States. By this time, Britten had already established himself as a well-know choral composer. The lyrics are from a long poem that was written by Christopher Smart in the 18th century. While Smart was well known for his translations of odes by Alexander Pope and prominent literary criticism, he was committed to a string of asylums for religious zealotry later in life. “Rejoice in the Lamb” was a poem that he wrote shortly after one of these asylum stays in 1757. Britten was careful with the setting of this poetry, dividing the stanzas between the chorus and four soloists. The four soloists of this performance were soprano Abigail Adams ’14, alto Marni Jacobs ’12, tenor John Maher ’12 and bass Kerry Goettlich ’14. These four musicians alternated with the chorus to tell a narrative of faith and praise leading to a glorious hallelujah.

Following Rejoice in the Lamb was Quatre Motets sure des themes grégoriens, a piece written by Durufle. A ruthless perfectionist, Durufle spent years working on his pieces until he felt satisfied with them. During his studies, he encountered and became enraptured with Gregorian chant, which would come to define many of his compositions. He was one of the scholars who developed a theory of chant rhythm as a free succession of notes in values of two and three. In Quatre motets sur des themes grégoriens, there are four motets: “Ubi Caritas,” “Tota pulchra es,” “Tue es Petrus” and “Tantum ergo.” Soprano Elaina Pullano ’15 sang the enchanting solos in these pieces, with her voice floating above the chorus.

Requiem by Durufle was the next piece in the program. Written in 1947, it was composed with the deliberate intent of plunging its historical roots into an earlier time. Requiems are a genre of compositions that first surfaced in the early 15th century.  Composers have consistently created requiems throughout history for the Catholic Church; however, the apogee of this genre occurred during the 15th century. Durufle tried to reconcile the Gregorian rhythm of this period with the modern meters of his peers. He covered these cooperating rhythmic influences with sophisticated harmonies that he learned from his studies in Paris. This requiem was published in three versions for organ alone, orchestra and organ and string quintet with harp, trumpets and timpani. The traditional nine parts of the requiem were sung in sequence with small pauses in between each section. Within this piece were two soloists: Professor of Statistics Richard De Veaux (baritone) and Jennifer Helinek ’15 (mezzo soprano), who executed their wondrous solos beautifully. David Kealhofer ’13 accompanied the requiem intermittently, adding the rich tones of the cello to the beautiful interweaving lines of harmony.

The concert concluded with a large applause from the audience, followed by Wells’ introduction of all of the seniors in the choir who will be graduating this year. Each senior was presented with a bouquet of flowers as Wells read a short statement about their plans after graduation. The choir’s seniors included Pinsi Lei ’12, Christina Martin ’12, Lauren McDonald ’12, John Borden ’12, Dan Kohane ’12, Natalia Loewen ’12, Samuel Mazzarella ’12, Matthew Schuck ’12, Maher and Jacobs.

The concert presented a wonderful example of religious choral music of the 20th century, for which Thompson Chapel provided a wonderful space.

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