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Critics often use a sliding scale - or ought to - when reviewing non-professional local performances. Allowances can be made for earnest amateurs of mixed musical backgrounds who perform for the love of music. No such adjustments were needed at all for the splendid program that the Chapel Hill Community Chorus presented to a well-filled house May 16 in the Chapel Hill Bible Church. The first and last items on the program made good use of a well-prepared ad hoc orchestra of local faculty and freelancers. The concertmistress was Anne Reagin and the double bass player was the indefatigable Robbie Link, ubiquitous in ensembles ranging from Baroque to bluegrass. All the forces were under the assured control of conductor Sue T. Klausmeyer, who possesses a fine, straightforward conducting technique, free of ostentation.
The main attraction was Franz Joseph Haydn's Mass No. 3 in D Minor, known as the "Lord Nelson" Mass. The soloists made a good matched team. Soprano Patricia Donnelly Philipps had an attractive and even high range. The lower range didn't always seem as evenly supported, and sometimes the consonants were not as clear as one expected, but this was not a major problem. Firm-voiced Tamsin Simmill, listed as an alto but with the upper reach of a mezzo-soprano, clearly projected her text. Tenor Wade N. Henderson brought a welcome sweet tone to his solos. The steadfast lower voice of Elon Faculty member William Adams was most welcome. Listed as a bass, he seemed more like a bass-baritone. His solo in the "Qui tollis" was memorable. All had fine diction and blended well in their ensembles. The huge choir was astonishingly good. Many community choruses lack sufficient numbers of male voices. The CHCC is strong in all its sections and evenly balanced. Klausmeyer has achieved wonders in getting such extraordinary clear diction from such a large group. They rivaled the quality of a fine chamber choir, able to follow tricky passages and sudden changes instantly. Over the course of the whole program, I filled five pages with notes about felicities of the performance. Klausmeyer did not neglect attention to the many details of Haydn's orchestration either. String articulation was excellent throughout, particularly near the end of the Gloria, a swirling figure just before the "Amen" at the end of the "Credo," as well as the rhythmically vital concluding "Agnus Dei." Woodwinds, brass and the timpani were vigorous.
Precise diction and fleet response to changes in the text were readily evident in the delightful selection of short works in English that ended the evening. "I Love My Love" was heard in an arrangement for a cappella chorus by Gustav Holst. It alternated full choir and sectional singing. Erin's green shores were evoked by arrangements by Craig Countney of "Three Irish Folk Songs" - "Wearing of the Green," "Down By the Salley Gardens," and "The Rakes of Mallow." In the first, droning male voices suggested the sound of bagpipes. Male voices only in the beginning of the second song were contrasted with the full ensemble at the end. Several men donned comic green hats before the third, Klausmeyer turned to the audience and said "it would be the tenors!" This witty ditty about some wastrels was a hoot!
The clear soprano of Philipps was set against a wordless chorus in K. Lee Scott's setting of "A Welsh Lullaby," also known as "Suo Gan."
The orchestra returned to the stage along with bass William Adams for an evocative performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams' delightful "Five Mystical Songs." Klausmeyer recreated the composer's unique sound world perfectly. The harp of Emily Laurance was much in evidence, at "Awake, my lute," in the first song, Easter, for example. The atmospheric clarinet solo was played by Don Oehler. The flute and fine blend of three violas joined the harp in "I got me Flowers." Low strings were featured in the third song, "Love Bade Me welcome." The fourth song, "The Call," had fine solos from oboist Connie Ignatiou and hornist Pam Halverson. The blending of cellists Virginia Hudson and David Oh with violist Diane Stephens was memorable. I cannot imagine the first four songs being better sung than they were by bass William Adams, whose performance was wonderfully inflected and featured extraordinary dynamic nuances. It reminded me of the work of baritone John Shirley-Quirk who made many recordings of the composer. The spirit of Vaughan Williams's Sea Symphony seemed close in the swaggering and vigorous all-choral setting of the last song, "Antiphon."
We CVNCers often complain about spare and bare program notes. The CHCC program was a model for others to emulate. It featured full listing of the works, notes about the works and performers as well as a full list of the orchestra and chorus. Alan Wyatt wrote the notes for the Haydn. John Idol contributed a note about poet George Herbert whose texts were used by Vaughan Williams. A side by side text and translation of the Haydn Mass was most useful. The English texts were welcome even though the chorus's performances were so clear.