Choral Music, Orchestral Music Review

A Spirited Evening of Choral Music with Four Choirs and the Greensboro Symphony Orchestra

April 6, 2006 - Greensboro, NC:

Nothing connects an orchestra with its immediate community as much as a joint concert with a well-prepared local chorus. Make that four choirs, as was the case in War Memorial Auditorium in Greensboro on April 6, and the effects are multiplied. Greensboro Symphony Orchestra Music Director Dmitry Sitkovetsky chose a challenging program – Bruckner's Te Deum and Beethoven's Choral Symphony – and used members of the Choral Society of Greensboro (Welborn E. Young, music director), the North State Chorale (Richard Cook, music director), the UNCG Women's Choir (prepared by Christina Elkins), and the UNCG Men's Glee Club (prepared by Cory Alexander and Michael Dougherty). Forces from the UNCG choirs were divided between two performances (on April 6 and 8). GSO Executive director Lisa Crawford said that there were about 300 people onstage for each concert.

Bruckner was especially fond of his life-affirming setting of the Te Deum in C Major for four soloists, chorus, and orchestra. Fast-paced for this composer of monumental symphonies, the 23-minute work is divided into five movements. The second movement uses four soloists without choir. Long rehearsals by the four choir directors and Sitkovetsky's final polishing paid off in the remarkable clarity of the full chorus in the opening movement and later, too, from the opening movement and throughout the work. Brass balance was so expertly handled that the sound of the sopranos easily cut through the massed sound of trombones, trumpets, and tuba. The words could be readily understood and the resplendent timbre of the brass could still be savored. The second movement provided the best opportunity to appreciate the playing of the string sections and woodwinds. Sitkovetsky's quartet of vocal soloists blended together beautifully; they were outstanding in every way.. Australian soprano Rachelle Durkin's stage presence was striking; her robust voice has a pleasing timbre and soared seamlessly across its range. Equal in strength was the focused velvety mezzo-soprano of Emily Golden. It was thrilling to hear the distinctively warm and powerful lyric tenor of High Point native Anthony Dean Griffey again – many music lovers will recall his two triumphant recitals for the Music in a Great Space series. His powerful yet dulcet tone illuminated two gorgeous solos, one in the second movement and one in the fourth. Extended violin solos by Concertmaster John Fadial complimented both of the tenor solos. Few basses can command rock-solid low notes like Tom Fox, a veteran of major roles at the Frankfurt Opera. His sepulchral voice paralleled nicely the dark color of the low strings.

While performances of Beethoven's Symphony No. 9 in D minor, Op. 125, are not rare in the Piedmont, they still carry an aura of special anticipation from the community. During the "Meet the Artists" after the concert, both Sitkovetsky and the singers commented on the influence of the early music movement on many current interpretations of the Ninth. Heavily romanticized approaches have been replaced by crisp attacks, light textures, and fleet tempos such as those chosen by Sitkovetsky for these presentations. He said that he had been most profoundly influenced by the approach of Nikolaus Harnoncourt. The conductor reseated the string sections; with the first violins and violas on his left and the second violins, cellos, and double-basses on his right, independent musical lines were emphasized. The first two movements were fast-paced; they made good foils for the warm singing lines of the slow movement. For the dramatic fourth movement, the chorus, seated during the first three movements, stood and was joined by the four soloists along the front of the stage. Fox gave a commanding statement of the opening bass solo. It would be hard to imagine a more mellifluous rendering of the tenor solo than that given by Griffey. Durkin's luminous coloratura was a perfect contrast to Golden's darker, lower sound. Durkin's powerfully projected soaring high sequence near the end was stunning. Choral diction was outstanding throughout – it was even better than in the Bruckner. The fiery finale swept the audience to its feet for prolonged and repeated recall of the performers.