On Sunday evening at 7 pm at Lyall Federated Church in Millbrook the Millbrook Community Festival Choir performed a program entitled Heroines, highlighting the work of women choral composers under the direction of Daniel Koch with Joseph Jacovino, Jr. accompanying the choir on organ and Roland electric piano.
They opened with Ave Regina Caelorum by Isabella Leonarda (1620-1704). Isabella was an Ursuline nun who at the age of fifty began composing Baroque religious music and eventually wrote nearly 200 works. This short choral work with pleasant harmonies provided a relaxed and attentive atmosphere for the concert.
“Eternal Ruler of the Ceaseless Round” by Libby Larson (1950-) with organ accompaniment brought the program clearly into the present with rhythms from American vernacular speech. Larson is the composer of four operas and five symphonies. The organ accompaniment by Jacovino added much to the choral performance of about forty singers.
“Annie Laurie” by Alicia Scott (1810-1900) offered a folkloric angle to the program. Scott is the author of ten sons, “Annie Laurie” being her most famous composition; the song was popularized by the opera singer John McCormack. The choir was effective with this simple romantic song of the beloved.
Esther Scliar’s “A Better Resurrection” was sung even better and in this performance the voices of Cat Greenstreet and Liz Faulkner excelled. The text of the Christina Rossetti poem dwells in the depths of self-pity with simple religious appeal in the images of a fallen leaf and broken bow, expressing despair with a desperate hope for religious healing.
While the choir took a break Jacovino played Clara Schumann’s “Romance No. 1 in A minor” (1853) on the Roland. Clara was a child prodigy and she began her concert tours at the age of eleven and by the age of sixteen she was the most famous and accomplished pianist in Germany. This 1853 Romance, the first of three, written on the cusp of Robert Schumann’s mental breakdown floats with fond memories with an underlying tragic pathos prophetic of her husband’s doom. The nearly funeral pace of this sonata amplifies pathos.
“Nearer My God to Thee” by Sarah Flower Adams (1805-48) remains one of the most recognizable American hymns and the organ accompaniment brought out the lovely texture of this hymn; like Sarah’s “He Sendeth Sun, He Sendeth Shower” offered a less well-known yet delightful tune. “Hail to Thee” by Sarah’s elder sister Eliza with text by Sir Walter Scott sounded more conventional.
Dan Koch read some texts from Clara Schumann’s notebook journal which effectively highlighted Clara’s religious hymn “Abendfeier in Venedig” (Evening celebration in Venice) with piano accompaniment delivered the most sophisticated height of harmonic aesthetics in the program and the choir handled this beautifully.
“Where There is Light in the Soul” by Elizabeth Alexander (1962-), who has written about 80 choral works, supplied the program’s crescendo and the audience broke into spontaneous applause.
The program concluded with “The Lord is my Shepherd” by Jessie Seymour Irvine (1836-1887) with the delightful refrain of “There will be Peace,” which expressed the Christian aspiration of two thousand years of yearning for what is best in humankind.