The fall concert of Crescendo, the Connecticut choral group directed by Christine Gevert, matched new works with old at the First Congregational Church in Great Barrington Saturday afternoon. The old included works by Telemann, Palestrina, Vivaldi and Pachelbel. They were preceded by excerpts of Mendelssohn’s church music that showed off his virtuoso talent in this area. He wrote his Te Deum when he was 17. It was impressive and impressively performed.
Crescendo was joined by the Berkshire Children’s Chorus led by Julie Bickford and by players of period instruments. The first half ended with a rousing version of Pachelbel’s Nun danket alle Gott, motet for double choir, a musical setting of Psalm 100 that continues as a staple of church music in many denominations. Mme Gevert used three choirs to show off how masses of voices can be used to display polyphony and enhance the audience’s experience. With the music coming from front, left and right, the audience is enveloped with sound.
The second half was devoted to living composers. Ola Gjeilo, a Norwegian, wrote Ubi Caritas I to a Maundy Thursday antiphon that retained its medieval feel but the music was free and modern and slightly minimal as in Arvo Pärt. Chris Clark was guest conductor of this piece.
A more pop mode was played in the music of John E. Myers dedicated to specific paintings of Norman Rockwell who lived in the next town, Stockbridge. Meyers joined the instrumentalists on guitar. Nine pieces were commissioned by Crescendo. Two were sung: Freedom of Speech and Happy Birthday, Miss Jones! Both displayed the lilting easy-going manner of jazz. The good diction of chorus and soloists made the words easily discernable. Music does not have to be dense or obscure to be enjoyed. The children’s chorus made a good thing of appreciating Miss Jones as their teacher; the choir came in as appreciative parents. This is a song that could really catch on in schools everywhere. All nine of these songs will be premiered at the Norman Rockwell Museum next year.
For the final group, Ms Gevert chose 20th century music from South America (Chile is her native country) --- Heitor Villa-Lobos, from Brazil and Javier Farias Caballero, from Chile. Visiting musicians, the Alturas Duo of Carlos Boltes and Scott Hill (guitar and viola) and the astonishing soprano Alexandra Aubert performed the aria from the fifth Bachiana Brasileiras suite of Villa-Lobos. This is a great showpiece. Ms. Aubert won over the audience; she has a rich, full voice and sings with passion, with dark tones and a tremulous sound that resonates. She clearly relished this music that seemed to have been written for her.
The final piece was Oceana by Caballero sung by the choir joined by Ms Aubert. What a difference one voice can make! The chorus seemed to have elevated into a new sphere of richness, clarity and joyful spirit. The poetry of Pablo Neruda took on new meaning. It floated: “Remember, you carry the birds heart/In its cage…gather for me the sounds of jewels,…we go accompanied by the sonorous assembly/To morning’s waterfall of ingots./May our love tremble like a fish in the cold.” The music soared. This was choral music that thrilled.
The visiting players joined the children’s chorus and Crescendo in a joyful encore.
The Alturas Duo and Alexandra Aubert can be heard on Tuesday Nov. 1 at the Capital Community College in Hartford at 6 pm. Ms. Aubert will then return to Chile where she teaches, directs and performs.