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The Chapel Hill Community Chorus, wrapping up its 29th year of performing, was joined by McDougle Middle School and Smith Middle School Treble Choirs, both conducted by Jenny Anderson. Sisters' Voices, a unique chorus of young women in Chatham County, were led by Leandra Strope. Guest soloists were soprano Andrea Edith Moore, currently guest lecturer in the voice department at UNC-CH, and baritone Valentin Lanzrein, recently heard with the Chamber Orchestra of the Triangle as soloist in Stravinsky's Pulcinella. Soloists from the chorus were alto Miranda Steed and tenor Will Gibbons.
The program began with a lively and joyous "Te Deum" by Franz Joseph Haydn written around the end of the 18th century at the request of the Empress Maria Therese to celebrate a visit by Lord Nelson, somewhat of a hero in that part of the world, for his recent victory over Napoleon. "Te Deum" ("We praise you O God") is an ancient hymn of praise in the Catholic tradition usually attributed to St Ambrose and St. Augustine, composed for the latter’s baptism. It makes for a very dramatic story, but is highly unlikely. The hymn expresses joy and thanksgiving in an exuberant way and has been used in settings by many great and well-known composers for special occasions, such as consecrations, canonizations, significant state functions, and coronations.
Haydn’s setting does not use soloists, though several choral passages are sung in unison. The choir follows a brief orchestral introduction with a joyous and tuneful development. There is a quiet middle section in C minor with some chromatically changing harmonies beginning on the words "Tu ergo quae sumus." The festive mood returns and leads to an exhilarating fugue on the words "In te, Domine, speravi." The closing section, with overlapping orchestral and choral phrases and syncopated rhythms, brings the piece to glorious close. The Spring Concert Orchestra and the chorus performed in a balanced and meticulously timed presentation under the baton of Sue Klausmeyer, the chorus’ conductor for the past ten years.
The Chapel Hill Community Chorus next sang the unaccompanied "Heilig" by Felix Mendelssohn. In 1846, Mendelssohn intended to produce a sequence of liturgical movements for use by the choir of the Domkirche in Berlin. He completed only three, of which “Heilig” (Sanctus) is the better known. Struggling just a little, the choir did an overall beautiful job with this brief and ethereal piece.
Mozart's "Regina Coeli," K. 276, is the third such Marian antiphon he wrote for the Salzburg Cathedral. "Rejoice Queen of Heaven," is sung from Easter Sunday through the Saturday before Pentecost. This setting was composed after Mozart was engaged as court organist in 1779. It is scored for four soloists, chorus, small orchestra, and organ. The solo or quartet sections alternate with the chorus sections. It is a spritely piece, typical of the youthful Mozart, still only 23 at this time. The soloists, orchestra and chorus conveyed the joy and vigor of this selection very well
John Rutter’s Mass of the Children reflects the composer’s happy recollection of the wondrous experience of singing in the children’s choir in Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at its premier. He has recalled many times the overwhelming thrill of singing with a full adult choir and a symphony orchestra in the performance of a major work. Mass of the Children was conceived with the specific intention of giving children a major role in singing with trained adults in a major choral work. It is a non-liturgical Missa Brevis with several English poems interwoven with the traditional Latin and Greek Mass. The music is typical Rutter: melodic, rhythmic, richly harmonized and masterfully orchestrated with especially effective use of woodwinds, harp and plucked lower strings. Mass of the Children was first performed on February 13, 2003 at New York's Carnegie Hall.
After opening with Thomas Ken’s morning hymn, “Awake my soul, and with the sun Thy daily stage of duty run. . .” sung by the children, the adult choir and soloists join in the rather austere Kyrie. This is followed by a luxuriant Gloria, again with all participating and performing winsomely indeed. The Sanctus was sung gloriously by the adults with the children adding a marvelous Benedictus. The Agnus Dei and Finale continued outstanding choral and orchestral sounds that seemed to end too soon. I wanted to hear more.
Special praise and gratitude is extended to the three middle school choirs who performed their entire extensive parts from memory, showing professional poise and superb responsiveness to the conductor. High marks are deserved by Moore and Lanzrein for their extraordinary solo work, especially in the Rutter. The orchestra was professional throughout. Next year the Chapel Hill Community Chorus will celebrate its 30th anniversary and if they continue to improve as they have each year in the past it will be a season to be especially anticipated.