Sunday, December 8, 2013

Central City Chorus - Matthews & Britten - 12/08/13

Music Director & Conductor: Phillip Cheah
David Matthews: Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd, Op. 90a
Britten: The Company of Heaven
The Adelphi Chamber Orchestra
Jennifer van Dyck: Speaker
Wanda Yang Temko: Soprano
Daniel Neer: Tenor
David Shuler: Organist

After receiving an out of the blue postcard informing me that the Central City Chorus would be performing a piece by Benjamin Britten at the St. Ignatius of Antioch Church, which happens to be located a few blocks from my apartment, I quickly got a ticket. The British composer had come to my fascinated attention when I first attended a gripping performance of Peter Grimes by the Washington National Opera a few years ago, and the New York City Opera's brilliant Turn of the Screw earlier this year has put him on my permanent radar for good. Just as the Britten Fest celebrating his centennial is slowly coming to an end, this was probably my last chance for a while to become acquainted with a little-known work of his so conveniently, so I happily grabbed it.

The St. Ignatius of Antioch Episcopal Church is an all-around attractive space of a reasonable size, with detailed stained-glass windows and other discrete artworks. That's in this welcoming environment that David Matthew's Psalm 23 kicked off the concert on a lovely note.
Britten's The company of Heaven turned out to be a 50-minute composition, which would have been more than enough of a feast if at least half of it hadn't been spoken Biblical excerpts or poems about angels and other religious figures. No matter how convincingly Jennifer van Dyck declaimed them, and there was plenty of conviction on her part, I found myself desperately checking the program more than once in order to figure out how long I would have to wait until the next musical interlude.
I have to admit, though, that my patience was vastly rewarded pretty much each and every time. From the turbulently engaging instrumental opening to the powerfully rousing chorale finale, the musical vignettes strongly benefited from the composer's idiosyncratic inventiveness, the chorus' beautifully textured singing, the soloists' bright voices, the organist's dynamic interjections as well as the orchestra's glowing strings and assertive timpani. The undisputed highlight of the performance had to be "War in Heaven", during which the brashly menacing drums, organ and male voices conjured up dramatic images of darkness and chaos before eventually disappearing as the soothing strings brought in peace and harmony, which in turn created a seamless bridge to the opening number of Part 3, the luminous "Heaven is Here". Other memorable passages included the happy-go-lucky spirit of Emily Brontë's poem "A thousand, thousand gleaming fires" and the short Mahlerian orchestral "Funeral March for a Boy".

So we ended up with roughly 25 minutes of musical enjoyment in a one-hour concert, which, granted, is better than no musical enjoyment at all in a longer concert, but nevertheless made me feel kind of short-changed as I was leaving the church just in time to catch the first winter flurries. On the other hand, I got home early enough to avoid the worst of the modest snow storm that was starting, so I guess that there were a couple of silver linings in the whole situation after all.

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