Review: The Oratorio Chorale "Musical Fireworks"

Posted Tuesday, November 26, 2013 in Culture

Review: The Oratorio Chorale "Musical Fireworks"

by Gina Hamilton

A festival of celebration was in the air at the Seventh Day Adventist Church as new conductor Emily Isaacson took the baton for the first time in the 40-year life of the Oratorio Chorale on Saturday night.

The program was a mix of music spanning six centuries, from Renaissance Monteverdi and Gastoldi to a Kyrie from a very young composer, Scott Ordway, who was present for the premiere of his work.

Joining the choir, whose ranks had swelled, especially in the critical tenor and bass sections, was the Portland Brass Quintet and the Maine Chamber Ensemble.

Beginning the performance was Rossini’s ever-charming Barber of Seville overture, performed ably by the Quintet.

The Chorale got into the act with Mozart’s ‘Venite Populi’ (“Come, O Peoples”), and came out as strong as we’ve ever seen them in our 10- plus years of attending the Oratorio Chorale’s performances.

The text of the piece is more in line with the young Mozart’s tavern habits (Let us feast, therefore, and become drunk with the wine of eternal joy; is there any nation so great?), but it is a lively, joyful piece nonetheless, with polyphonal nods to Renaissance and Baroque composers who came before Mozart was born, and changed the musical world.

We were sorry that the Chorale did not perform Allegri’s ‘Miserere Mei, Deus’, a late Renaissance work with chant pretensions, but the program was overflowing with marvelous music regardless. Perhaps the Chorale will reschedule the Allegri at some point in its promising future.

James MacMillan’s modern “New Song” was a haunting mix of plainsong and Gaelic flourishes, with a strong dose of ‘Hearts of Space’ music, and was easily one of our favorite works of the evening.

The Kyrie by Scott Ordway blew us away. We hope there is a chance of hearing the whole Mass at some point. Of particular note was the excellent voice of mezzo soprano Thea Lobo. The other soloists, Jessica Petrus, soprano, and John D. Adams, bass, were also quite good. The Chorale’s new strength in the male parts made this piece possible, especially in the forte sections that sounded like a wall of sound.

In the second half, the Quintet played “Contrapunctus IX,” from Bach’s Art of the Fugue. We are Art of the Fugue fans, and the Quintet’s version of the work, ordinarily done by solo organ or small string groups, was a delight.

The Renaissance and Baroque works that characterized the second half of the performance reminded us why we had fallen in love with the Oratorio Chorale in the first place. Jessica Petrus was stellar in Bach’s “Jauchzet Gott in allen Landen!”, the first song of Cantata 51. The Quintet continued to delight in the Gastoldi dances, and the choir and the soloists shone brightly in the Schutz Psalm 150.

Overall, the well-constructed program and the excitement and enthusiasm of the Chorale’s new young composer bodes well for the future of the organization. And for that, we are profoundly grateful.


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