The Jackson Choral Society at Millsaps College, April 24, 2018
This, the Choral Society's closing concert of the 2017-2018 season,
opened with "From the Rising of the Sun" by Frederick Ouseley (1825-1889),
with a solid sound. The remaining pieces followed in four chronological
groups (Morning, Noon, Evening and Night). In Morning, "Daybreak",
a rhythmic setting by Stephen Paulus (1949-2014) was first, then, for TTBB
and a capella, "We Get Up in the Morn'" by English composer George
Butterworth (1885-1916), whose work has been researched by director Jonathan
Trotter. Closing the Morning group was "Hymne au Soleil", with
soloist Mary Parker, by Lili Boulanger (1893-1918). The Boulanger's were a
prominent musical family in Paris that included Lili's older sister Nadia,
who was an internationally recognized composer and teacher.
The next group Noon opened with Ralph Vaughan-Williams' (1872-1958)
"Silent Noon", both mild and powerful, and followed by two pieces from
"Die Tageszeiten" ("the daily cycle"): "Last mich die süsse Vollust
Fühlen" ("Let me feel the sweet pleasure") and "Auf! folget dem
feurigen..." ("Up! Follow the fiery sun") by Georg Philipp Telemann
(1681-1767), and accompanied by a string quartet. This group closed
with "Across the Vast Eternal Sky" by Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978); sung with
the chamber musicians this had a full and satisfying sound, including
prominent descending passages for bass (voice and cello).
Evening (or perhaps Dusk might be a better term) followed,
starting with Gerald Finzi's (1901-1956) "My Spirit Sang All Day",
sung a capella, a spirited piece. Next was perhaps my favorite
selection, "Evening Hymn", with organ, by Balfour Gardiner (1877-1950).
As an organist myself for 65+ years I admit to a bit of prejudice
toward that instrument. In "Evening Hymn" the organ had significant
and exciting passages, interspersed with similar passages for the
choir, with well-matched dynamics, a compelling arrangement. Church
music in the West has traditionally depended heavily on the organ
as the primary instrument for worship, and it is reassuring to
experience its continuing use in programs such as this one. The
Dusk group concluded appropriately with "Dusk", by well-known
jazz artist Dave Brubeck (1920-2012).
The closing group - Night - began with Mac Wilberg's (b. 1955)
mellow piece "My Song in the Night", which was so satisfying that I
was left wondering if anything as appropriate would follow. The
next piece did - Daniel Elder's (b. 1986) "Ballade to the Moon"
was not only as mellow but also included some polyphony. Finally,
after director Trotter disappeared with some of the singers, they
reappeared with wineglasses filled to various levels with water,
and the last piece, Eriks Esenvalds (b. 1977) "Stars" commenced,
with moistened fingers rubbing the rims of the glasses to produce
a quiet but complex chord that continued through several choral
passages to produce a magical effect.
Tommy Creel was the principal keyboard musician, and the string
players included Heidi Kemp and Gigi Creel (violins), Leslie Wood
(viola) and Jannette Sudderth (cello). I deliberately avoided the
term "accompanist" because each of these musicians expertly played
well-defined and important roles in each piece, which, in my view,
along with the choir and director Trotter, thus became a single
unified ensemble. In summary, this was a wonderful program.
We also are grateful to Millsaps College for providing a satisfying
venue - both acoustically and visually - for our community for many
Glenn A. Gentry