I had the privilege of reviewing the Greenville Choral Society in March of last year. Every nice thing I said about them and their conductor, Dr. Andrew Roby, can be repeated in spades for this concert as well.

The program was Kim André Arnesen‘s setting of words by Charles Anthony Silvestri. The poem and the composition are both entitled Tuvayhun: Beatitudes for a Wounded World.

Oakmont Baptist Church is a gigantic religious theater, with mega projectors, sound system, and seating. It was pretty much full for this event. It also has mega carpet and mega cushions; in spite of this, it is acoustically quite live, judging by the preconcert chatter. The choir seating was full with the 86 listed GCS members; the altar area was just big enough for the 21 musicians of the New Carolina Sinfonia, with Roby conducting from the spot where the pulpit usually stands. The three principal soloists stood on the steps in front. They were Jami Rhodes, mezzo-soprano; Mark Gardner, baritone; and Ella Roach, treble. Others with solo roles were Mary Roby, Mairead Colby, Dana Hall, Emily Troyan, and Jacob McCain.

The New Carolina Sinfonia consisted of a string orchestra supplemented by flute, harp, guitar, and percussion. It sounded to me like the entire church sound system was on, with some performers amplified more closely, especially the guitar, mezzo-soprano, and principal treble.

The Beatitudes are only about eighty words in the usual English translations; Silvestri’s poetical interlineations swelled the libretto to two and a half pages of closely spaced ten-point type. Arnesen’s musical treatment was about an hour and forty minutes.

Gardner’s role was to introduce each of the Beatitude movements, singing the text in what I believe was Aramaic; this was also printed phonetically in the libretto. Gardner’s baritone is lush and powerful; he filled the room without being directly amplified. His pronunciations sounded legitimate; his diction was quite clear.

Rhodes and Roach had roles more integrated into the music. Rhodes is an excellent professional singer from the ECU School of Music. Roach is a fifth grader at Eastern Elementary School. She had a good stage presence and sweet and mostly unspoiled delivery.

The chorus is totally well-trained under Roby’s baton. They are really good; I’d love to hear them do a more conventional war-horse from the choral repertoire, Mendelssohn’s Elijah or Mozart’s Requiem, perhaps. The choral sound that they produced in movement six, “What is Peace?,” was smooth and delicious; their volume, later in the same movement, was massive.

There was beautiful singing that I consider typical of GCS in movement 17: “Hold My Hand.”

The amount of preparation, work, memory, and dedication was just enormous; performing Tuvayhun was a major undertaking, particularly for this wonderful volunteer organization. My hat is off to the hundred-plus performers on stage and to all the others behind the scenes, techies, spouses, and parents.