Review: Oratorio Chorale's Britten and Dvorak

Posted Wednesday, March 13, 2013 in Culture

Review: Oratorio Chorale's Britten and Dvorak

by Gina Hamilton

The Oratorio Chorale performed a program of the music of Benjamin Britten, Antonin Dvořák, Ivor Davies and Randall Thompson on March 9 and 10 in Brunswick and Falmouth.

We attended the concert at the Seventh-day Adventist Church on Maine Street in Brunswick on Saturday night. It was well attended.

The program was a group of sacred works by Britten ("Rejoice in the Lamb," lyrics taken from a lengthy work by 18th century poet Christopher Smart), Ivor Davies ("Prayers from the Ark," lyrics from a group of poems by Carmen Bernos de Gastold), Randall Thompson ("Alleluia"), and Antonin Dvořák ("Mass in D"). 

The lyrics for "Rejoice in the Lamb" are painfully disjointed; their author had suffered a religious crisis and spent most of his life in an asylum. The Britten music was composed to sympathize with the fragile mental state of the poet, and at times is difficult to listen to. Members of the choir, rather than guest soloists, sang the solo pieces, and despite the difficult nature of the piece, the choir produced a magnificent body of work. Accompanying them was Ray Cornils, who is organist and minister of music at First Parish Church in Brunswick, as well as teaching music at Bowdoin, USM, and the Portland Conservatory of Music.

The sweet lyrics of "Prayers from the Ark" tell the story of animals trapped on Noah's Ark, and what they ask God for. Most of the pieces are solo with chorus, so once again, the choir was challenged to provide solo work, and met the task admirably.

The lovely a capella Thompson "Alleluia" was a piece for full choir, and swelled the church with music. It is in pieces like this that the Oratorio Chorale truly shines, and it did not disappoint.

After the intermission, the choir and Cornils performed the Dvořák masterwork, "Mass in D," only one of three Masses that survive from a much larger body of sacred work.  Written for organ and choir for a small family chapel, the late Romantic composer uses the sacred form in his own unique way, while managing to recall the work of Bach, Schubert, Beethoven, and many other earlier composers. 

The choir, again serving as its own soloist force, was sublime. The piece lent itself as well to a small New England church as to the Bavarian family chapel for which it was written. 

The program was lovely, contemplative, and calming on many levels, and proves yet again why the musical direction of Peter Frewen, now in its final year, has been so enduring.  We will be truly sorry to lose him to his well-deserved retirement, but look forward to the future of the Chorale as well.

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