University United Methodist Church was well-filled with fanciers of choice choral music. Cantari, the select vocal ensemble formed from within Chapel Hill's 130-member Voices chorus, usually performs a cappella. An able chamber orchestra of strings, oboes, three trumpets, and timpani amply supported significant works from the 22-year old and mature George Frideric Handel (1685-1759). These forces were led by conductor and artistic director of both choral forces, Dr. Sue T. Klausmeyer.
Two works from Handel's maturity, Coronation Anthems (1727) "Zadok the Priest" (HWV 258) and "My Heart is Inditing," (HWV 261) sandwiched Dixit Dominus (1707) (HWV 232), a seminal work from the young composer's Italian tour. Nothing is more etch-British than the four Coronation Anthems that Handel composed for the 1727 coronation of George II of Great Britain and Queen Caroline. The texts were a personal selection by the composer who drew upon the most accessible account of an earlier coronation, James II of England in 1685.
"Zadok the Priest" has been sung prior to the anointing of a monarch at every British coronation since its composition. It is based upon a traditional antiphon, Unxeunt Salomonem, which drew upon the account of the anointing of Solomon in the book of First James in the Old Testament.
With the full complement of brass and percussion at hand, Klausmeyer led a stirring and vivid performance of this justly famous anthem. Ensemble was breathtaking between the seven-part choir and the brilliant unanimity of the three trumpets and timpani. Each juxtaposition of the text between choir sections was wonderfully clear.
Handel's Dixit Dominous is a seminal work of the 22-year old composer during his Italian Tour in 1707. Despite the grounding in choral composing by his teacher, Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, none of Handel's previous works anticipate the abrupt advances of his style in this work. Much of his mastery as a composer of concerted music for choir and orchestra is fully present. Donald Burrows, in Handel (©1994) lists elements of the composer's maturity: the choral outbursts on "Juravit Dominous," straightforward imitation in "Judicabit," counterpoint on two subjects in "Tue es sacredos," interplay of answering and combining voices in "Et non poenitebit eum," and close overlapping of vocal entries in "Dominous a dextris." The concert's fine, succinct program note delineates the distribution of the five-part chorus, five soloists from within the ensemble, and strings.
The clarity of various choral lines, as they were shifted and played off against each other, remained at a remarkably high standard. The vocal quality of individual soloists drawn from within the choir was very high. Fine solos were had by alto Janice Sarratt in "Virdum virtutis tuae" and soprano Jane Thurston in "Tecum Principium." "Dominus a dexris tuis" juxtaposed a quintet of sopranos Jane Thurston and Che Sokol, alto Janice Sarratt, tenor Dale Bailey, and baritone Adam Dengler with the chorus magnificently. The soprano solos soared stratospherically, and Dengler brought a welcome richness to his part. The duet of sopranos Thurston and Sokol set against the male choir in "De torrente" was striking. The full chorus in the concluding "Gloria Patri" polished off Dixit Dominous truly gloriously.
The less flamboyant Coronation Anthem, "My Heart is Inditing," sets a text developed by Henry Purcell for the 1685 coronation. It makes use of a shortened adaptation of verses from Psalm 45 (verses 1, 10, 12) and the Book of Isaiah (chapter 49, verse 23). Handel adapted the words more apt for a queen, and it was sung at the 1727 coronation of Queen Caroline. The music's four movements are characterized by three successive elegant and refined andantes before the full orchestra's resources – three trumpets and timpani – are brought in at the end for full triumphal effect.
For the line, "My Heart is Inditing," a quartet consisting of soprano Lisa Misch, alto Cassie Ford, tenor Kevin Ramer, and Matthew Moreira Bahnson alternated against the full choir. In the second section," King's Daughters," soprano Misch and alto Ford paired with the chorus above an enticing base line in the orchestra. The same forces were in the third section "Upon Thy Right Hand" which began as a graceful andante before picking up rousing allegro rhythm at "and the King shall have pleasure" which continued over into the triumphal "Kings Shall Be Thy Nursing Fathers" which was capped further by the "Amen" from Messiah, HWV. 56.
The chorus of Cantari had been superbly prepared by director Klausmeyer. The multiple couplings of parts of the text between choral sections were consistently clear. Soloists from within the choir sang with never less than adequate and often at a far higher standard. The chamber orchestra was excellent throughout. Principal violinist Tasi Matthews had a number of fine solos. The digital chamber organ, played by Shoko Abe, was surprisinlg pleasing. (I have a strong prejudice against "canned" keyboards.) The frequent continuo of cellist Lisa Ferebee, double bass Allison Portnow Lathrop, with Abe's keyboard was very satisfying.