The Chapel Hill Community Chorus, conducted by Sue Klausmeyer, regaled a large audience in Hanes Theater at Chapel Hill High School with “Love and Roses” (the theme of the concert) on Saturday, May 14. The women’s ensemble presented roses to lucky members of the audience after intermission, and the winner of a raffle got a dozen long-stems. Various instrumentalists and dancers (or rather cyclists) also joined the chorus to make for a very entertaining evening.

The program opened with Brahms Liebeslieder Waltzer (Lovesong Waltzes), Op. 52 The chorus seemed fairly comfortable with the German and clearly had worked hard at it. The phrasing was not entirely perfect, and the clarity of the words and the inner lines, already a challenge because of Brahms’ often dense textures, lacked the crispness and precision to keep things properly bright. The piece seemed somewhat tedious at times, too, though there were movements that sparkled. The overall effect, including solos by mezzo Klausmeyer and tenor William Kodros, was mostly effective in communicating Brahms’ irresistible, happy, tuneful, and harmonically delicious creations. Jeremy Peterman, organist at University Baptist Church (among other engagements), and Frank Pittman, since 1998 Instructor of Piano at Meredith College, did an outstanding job as the duo-piano accompanists for the Brahms.

The second featured piece, in keeping with the theme, was Morten Lauridsen’s gorgeous setting of Rainer Maria Rilke’s French poetry, Les Chansons des Roses. Ever since this work appeared in 1993, it has been a favorite with choruses and audiences almost everywhere. It is frequently described as “exquisite” and “transcendent.” These five verses about the fragrance, the beauty, and the thorns of roses, with rich harmonies and intriguing melodies – most especially in “Dirait-on,” the last one – always seems to leave audiences gratefully satisfied. The CHCC’s rendition was no exception, though it did not seem to have the magic I have experienced at other performances. I think perhaps it goes better with a smaller, tighter chorus. Nevertheless, it was a joy to hear.

Intermission was a lively affair in the lobby, with refreshments available while friends of the CHCC greeted other friends and those attracted to choral music from around the Triangle. It seemed almost like a family affair, and those in attendance gave the impression of being very pleased with the venue at Chapel Hill High School.

After intermission, the Women’s Ensemble charmed the audience with Gershwin’s “Somebody Loves Me,” arranged by Jacque C. Rizzo. Then the Men’s Ensemble just about outdid them with Meredith Willson’s “Lida Rose,” from The Music Man. Soprano Elizabeth Freeman did a lilting obbligato against the men’s barbershop harmonies.

The full chorus returned to the stage for “The Rose the Briar, and the Bicycle” a delightful three part fantasy by well-known contemporary American composer Gwyneth Walker. The former faculty member of the Oberlin College Conservatory resigned from academic employment in 1982 in order to pursue a career as a full-time composer, and she has done quite well. She now lives on a dairy farm in Braintree, Vermont. More of her later. For this piece, the chorus was joined by oboist Bo Newsome, who beautifully performed the solo accompaniment. The oboe added a charm and a touch of whimsy. The third part of the fantasy included a reworking of the familiar “Bicycle Built for Two,” and during the singing of this portion, cyclists Betsy Kraus and Doug Wilson gracefully pedaled across the stage on a classy two-seater. It was all very nice and enjoyable.

The concert concluded with music by two other renowned American composers, Z. Randall Stroope and James Mulholland. For Mulholland’s setting of Emily Dickinson’s plaintive “Heart, We will Forget Him!,” Jacob Medlin played the hauntingly wistful French horn solo accompaniment superbly. CHCC’s piano accompanist Marianne Kremer was solid, unobtrusive, and provided ideal support and enhancement to the chorus throughout.

There is still a Summer Chorus concert to anticipate. It will feature Canadian and Hispanic music at University United Methodist Church in Chapel Hill on Friday, July 15. The 2005-6 season will be the 25th for CHCC, and a major feature will be the commissioning of Gwyneth Walker to create an original choral composition dedicated to CHCC’s silver anniversary.

Klausmeyer has done a fine job with these volunteer singers. They are not yet quite up to par with some of the other outstanding community choruses in this area, but the CHCC provides opportunities to indulge in the joy of singing for some 109 souls and pleasure for those of us who enjoy the fruits of their efforts. All hail to those who take joy in singing! With a nod – and an apology – to Octavio Paz, Let us sing till the song puts forth roots, trunk, branches, birds, … stars!