The Wilmington Choral Society‘s concluding concert of the 2017-18 season featured the Requiem of John Rutter. The Society is in its 67th year and as such can be counted among Wilmington’s most venerable and durable cultural institutions. Held in the superb Wilson Center, the concert was directed by Paula Brinkman, who has led the Society for nearly ten years, following a career of over thirty years as a choral conductor and educator in the Northeast.

The concert began with a performance of the “First Arabesque” for piano by Claude Debussy. This was given a smooth, fluid performance by Byron Marshall, the accompanist for the Society. Marshall is an accomplished piano soloist in his own right.

After a spoken introduction to the event, the chorus performed two works led by Brinkman: “Sing Me to Heaven” – which gave the concert its title – by Gawthrop/Griner, and “Cantique de Jean Racine” by Gabriel Fauré. Both were attractively rendered, with a gentle tone. At the same time, one would have wished for more variety of phrasing, especially in rising to peaks of dynamics.

These two works were followed by the presentation of scholarship winners. In a most worthy service to Wilmington’s musical life, the Society awarded $1,000 to each of two high school seniors who are going to college to major in voice. Abigale Hawkins then sang “The Reward” by J.J. Niles and Nora Mark performed “Il Bacio” (The Kiss) by Luigi Arditi. Both young soloists sang appealingly; Mark brought effective high notes to her song. The use of a microphone was rather a distraction in both.

After intermission came a short song, “Arise, My Love,” performed by Shannon Kessler Dooley, soprano, who was featured as soloist in the program’s second half. Dooley has an extensive portfolio of operatic performances. Her singing communicated immediate expressive intensity and a fine rich tone. Even in this brief song, she was impressive.

The main work of the afternoon was the aforementioned Requiem of Rutter. This 7-movement piece, lasting over half an hour, was first performed in 1985 and has become something of a choral classic. Sung in both Latin and English, it combines a symphonic character with style elements sometimes resembling film music. Here it was performed in the chamber orchestra version.

On the one hand, Brinkman’s obvious skills as a choral leader came to the fore here. She had clear control of cues and balance and strong connection with the ensemble. On the other hand, as was the case earlier, attacks by the choir tended to be approximate. Overall there was a need for more shaping and contour of phrases, and especially for an opening out of the sound at the bigger climaxes.

The orchestra of twenty played beautifully, capturing the light-dark qualities of the work, and without receiving a great deal of guidance from the podium. Gabrielle McBroom’s oboe solo in “The Lord is my Shepherd” was especially plaintive and affecting. Dooley’s brief turns as soloist were deeply expressive and again, gorgeous in tone. Her rising peroration in the “Lux Aeterna” was memorable. The chorus made a particular impression at the very end of the work, as the music returns to the gentle melody of the first-movement Requiem, and the cycle of life, death, and life is brought to a full circle.

The concert concluded attractively, with a piece by David Dickau (composer) and Henry Heveningham (poet) “If Music Be the Food of Love,” which is the anthem of the Society. As in much of the other music, the choir’s smooth sound was something to appreciate. Heveningham lived not quite a century after Shakespeare, and the song by Henry Purcell – in several versions – to Heveningham’s text, has made it well-known. The poem is not to be confused with Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, by the way; only the first line is in common with the speech which opens that play.

Marshall, the accompanist, played with sensitive tone and balance throughout the program. In the Fauré, one might have wished for a bit more sound, while he matched the ensemble perfectly in the concluding piece. He took over the glockenspiel part in the Sanctus of the Requiem and played with bright sound and strong rhythm. He and Brinkman form a highly professional team to lead one of Wilmington’s most successful community institutions.