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The Carolina Concert Choir, under the direction of Bradford Gee, presented their spring concert, “The Promise Of Living: Music Of Hope And Rejoicing,” to a large and enthusiastic audience in St. James Church. The CCC was accompanied by a string quartet: Lillian Hall and Diana Zerby, violins, Carla Wright, viola, and Aaron Coffin, cello. Organ and keyboard accompaniment was by Katherine Wright.
The community has totally embraced Maestro Gee and his efforts, and almost everyone in the audience has a tie to at least one of the singers. The 300-plus crowd was full of clergy fans; the retired bishop of Central Florida was taking tickets, there were at least four clergy in the audience, and the Reverend Tim Hoyt is a member of CCC. Most of the singers' spouses and significant others were there as well.
CCC has clearly and visibly joined the electronic age. The entering audience was greeted by a very thorough monitoring and recording set-up, cameras on tripods were everywhere in the church, and eight microphones and their stands and cables thronged the area between the performers and the audience. One of the cameras was for CCTV allowing the organist (otherwise occluded by the choir) to see Maestro Gee.
The 16pp-plus-cover, half-size program, with both foreign language libretti and English translations, was a model of its kind.
The program began with Handel's fourth coronation anthem, “Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened,” which Paul Henry Lang dismisses as "the least important of the four" coronation anthems. The weakness of the composition did not weaken the performance, which was quite strong. Notwithstanding the enthusiastic and forceful conducting of Maestro Gee, the bass section entries sometimes lacked the confidence that contrapuntal music requires. In general, however, the choir was an exemplar of crispness and precision. The rhythmic enthusiasm of Gee and the chorus was not matched, at times, by the string quartet.
A random, loud electronic chirp plagued the first half of the concert. The podium that goes bump in the night also made its irregular and unsettling appearance.
From Handel, the choir stepped back in time to the Kyrie and Gloria of William Byrd's great Mass For Four Voices. Gee kept the choir rolling right along, in spite of some minor intonation problems in the solo quartet in the “Suscipe.” A performance of Byrd's entire Mass by CCC would make a fine program in itself. Forty-five voices is right at the maximum limit for this ethereal music. The quartet did, by and large, an excellent job; the members for this performance were Caroline Robbins, soprano, Judy Meinzer, alto, Wayne Arrowood, tenor, and Brian Tribby, bass. Karen Areheart alternates with Robbins and Julie Williams with Judy Meinzer in the three other performances of this program.
Section III of the concert was a reprise from March 10 of parts 1, 4, and 5 of Brahms's A German Requiem.
These three parts were sharply focused performances, accompanied by Katherine Wright. Wright plays beautifully, but the German Requiem is just not the same without orchestra. Part 4 is "How lovely is Thy dwelling place"; the music was lovely as well. Romantic music is one of the many strong areas of CCC. Part 5, “Ihr habt nun Traurigkeit,” included the superb soprano solo singing of Andrea Blough. Her enunciation seems effortless and natural, while totally perfect. To be able to manage the neighboring "g" and "k" in "Traurigkeit" as she did is the touchstone for good pronunciation of consonants.
After a fifteen-minute intermission the electronic gremlin chirp was heard no more.
String quartet and organ were an adequate foil to the choir's vigorous interpretation of F. J. Haydn's Te Deum. The overall rating is five stars! It almost seems petty to mention the trifling negatives that are inevitable in live music; there's just no way to edit them out. Everybody got briefly off tempo in "Te gloriosus Apostolorum"; they were off tempo again briefly in "non horruisti," and the solo big organ chord after "Judex crederis esse venturus" was unconvincing. “Tu ad dexteram Dei,” in contrast, was absolutely beautiful! Aaron Coffin's cello playing in “Per singulos dies” was exemplary; precise attack met perfect intonation. His cello tone excellently enhanced the bass of the organ.
The CCC can truly sing anything, as demonstrated by the diversity of this concert. I've already mentioned how effective they are in romantic music, as well as how I'd like to hear the Byrd Mass in toto, but they really came into their own in what may be the most challenging choral genre, the twentieth and twenty-first century choral art song. The program arrangement centered on Richard Arnest's “Between Two Hills” (setting an early poem by Carl Sandberg) between Samuel Barber and Aaron Copland. This performance was the premiere of the Arnest, which was commissioned for and by CCC. This follows well the tradition of the choir, which has, in the past, under conductor Bev Ward, premiered Ward's compositions.
The Barber songs were James Agee's “Sure On This Shining Night,” Gerald Manly Hopkins's “Heaven-haven, “ and Gian Carlo Menotti's “Under The Willow Tree.” All of these modern songs required the choir to whisper, roar, sing lyrically, and project a broad range of emotions, which they did flawlessly. Solo singing by Sandy Salvaggio-Walker was the best I've ever heard from this talented performer. Katherine Wright and Karen Areheart provided piano four-hands accompaniment to the Copland.
Strong credit is owed to Maestro Gee and his singers, who have brought so much to the Hendersonville community. By all means attend the remaining performance on June 2 at Piccolo Spoleto, in Charleston, SC.