|The Pacific Chorale, divided into three for Hyo-Won Woo’s Me-Na-Ri (Space Music), |
at the start of their “welcome back” concert.
Pacific Chorale, Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa
DAVID J BROWN
|Rachmaninoff working at his|
Ivanovka estate, c.1910.
However, the return to the Segerstrom Concert Hall platform of the Pacific Chorale under their Artistic Director Robert Istad could not have been more warmly welcomed, and their performance of Rachmaninoff’s All-Night Vigil Op. 37 that was the main item, filling the second half (and with the bass Ryan Thomas Antal in the first, mezzo-soprano I-Chin Betty Feinblatt in the second, and tenor Nicholas Preston in the fourth and fifth of the work's 15 movements), showed the Chorale to have lost none of its security of pitch, clarity of articulation, and control of dynamic and rhythmic nuance, despite the long Covid-enforced absence.
Nonetheless, to listen with sustained attention and comprehension was a challenge, not only because this essentially static and contemplative music, however beautiful, requires “different ears” from the "classical" developmental style of so many Western orchestral and instrumental works, but also because the translated supertitles of the text—normally to be welcomed for works sung in languages other than English—were distracting here, dragging attention away from the music per se to its specific, and repetitive, religious devotions, sometimes clumsily expressed.
That said, however, All-Night Vigil could not have had more fervent and accomplished advocates, resolving one to explore further a genre of 19th- and 20th-century Russian sacred music that stemmed originally from Rachmaninoff’s admired model Tchaikovsky, whose fascination with traditional chant led to his own settings of this and other Orthodox texts.
The concert program notes (by Dr John Koegel of CSU Fullerton, and a model of their kind) discussed in detail Geter’s creative response to his chosen challenge: “inspired by the death of George Floyd, to write a work that would present a hopeful vision for the future in the midst of strife, inequity, and struggle…” His starting point quotes directly from J. S. Bach’s Cantata BWV 12, Weinen, Klagen (Wailing, Crying), with the solo cello acting as continuo, but this first of the five brief, linked movements (entitled “Fear”) segues at its midpoint into the African-American Spiritual idiom that imbues the remainder of the work.
|Aundi Marie Moore.|
Inevitably, as with the plethora of artistic responses to 9/11, there is the question whether works that react to tragedy can ever “measure up” to the significance of the real-world event. And is it even meaningful or appropriate to ask? Also, can a work thus prompted, with “hopeful” in its very title, avoid seeming naive in its optimism, as one might also ask regarding, say, the intoning of “Deep River” at the end of Tippett’s A Child of Our Time, a work like the Geter inspired by an atrocity?
For me, the most telling element in Geter’s cantata was the cello which, after its Bachian initiation, and in addition to its accompanying function, sometimes moves into strange independent areas of its own, even seeming at times to undermine rather than underscore the “feelgood” mood. One thing Geter’s work is not is opportunistic—his career embraces his African American heritage and embodies a commitment to draw together the worlds of Black and “classical” music. His An African American Requiem is to be premiered next year; it will be well worth looking out for.
A distant soprano solo (Jane Hyun-Jung Shim in this performance) blends with the choirs, the two in the side aisles slowly move forward to join their on-stage fellows, syllabic chanting quickens and builds to a furious percussion-driven crescendo (masterfully played by Sangyoun Park, below right), which is dramatically cut off at its peak. Then a long, slow diminuendo… and fade to black. It was a masterfully dramatic opening for the Pacific Chorale's return to the concert platform.
Pacific Chorale, Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall, Costa Mesa, 7pm, Saturday, October 30, 2021.
Images: The performers: Doug Gifford; Rachmaninoff: Wikimedia Commons; Damien Geter: Resonance Ensemble; Tarik O'Regan: Frances Marshall Photography. Hyo-Won Woo: Courtesy, Phoenix Chorale.
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