What's Playing? / The Stamford Chorale - Haydn and Rossini
The Stamford Chorale has been around for some time, and is made up of people who love to sing. The group is not as large as other choral groups in the area, but Sunday's concert at St. John's Lutheran Church in Stamford was very well-prepared and performed. The soloists were professionals, which for the music they chose for the concert, was essential. They performed Giacchino Rossini's "Stabat Mater," a text which tells of the Virgin Mary at the foot of the cross where her son Jesus is dying. It is part of the liturgies of Lent and Good Friday.
This is not the fun Rossini of "The Barber of Seville," though his musical vocabulary is present in the florid, demanding writing for both ensemble and soloists, and the multi-colored counterpoint and wide tonal range. The size of the ensemble was an advantage, avoiding the muddiness that can happen when this piece is performed by larger groups. There was no orchestra, but the remarkably orchestral, colorful playing of pianist Dorothy Kolinsky and cellist Rebecca Patterson and the addition of an expert tympanist, Judith Hirschman, was beautiful and entirely adequate for the space.
The concert began with the "Gloria" section from Franz Josef Haydn's "Mass in Time of War," also know as the "Paukenmesse" because of the featured writing for the tympani. The bass solo was sung by Daniel Hague, an experienced singer, with whose work I am very familiar. It was a stirring piece with triumphant moments, an excellent opening choice.
In the Rossini, all the writing is unforgiving, requiring great concentration, musical intelligence, and careful attention to dynamics and tempo. Rossini didn't spare anyone. The most chilling and effective moment was the hushed, staccato repetition of the words "Dum pendebat filius (where her son is hanging)."
The soloists were heard not only in arias, but in closely written florid ensembles in which each musical line was an individual challenge that had to fit in with the others.
The most spectacular of the arias was "Cujus animam," which takes the tenor soloist to a stratospheric high d-flat. Dan Juarez made it look easy.
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He has a full dramatic sound, somewhat dark, but flexible, undaunted by Rossini's demands that took him all over his range.
The bass aria "Pro peccatis" was Hague's, who claimed it for himself with mellow, sonorous sound and a full range that went into the sub-basement.
Sara Bleasdale did a fine job on the equally challenging "Fac ut portem," a piece that demonstrated her lovely sound.
The famous "Inflammatus et accensus" was Yvonne Cheng's moment. This is another piece that demands everything the soprano has, but kindly gives her effective choral sections in support.
I lost her bright sound occasionally in the middle range, when the chorus covered her, but that is not unusual. The climatic phrases on the word "inflammatus" were thrilling.
The final piece, "In sempiterna saecula -- Amen," was a contrapuntal tour-de-force, fugal, a wall of woven sound that enveloped the hearer right to the final note.
This particular chorus has daunted just about everybody, and remembering that the Stamford singers are not "professionals," they are to be doubly congratulated for their performance of this piece.
The conductor was the estimable Glen Clugston. He knew what he wanted from his singers in order to honor Haydn and Rossini, and the audience was the beneficiary of a fine afternoon of music.