Polymnia Soloists Shine

... Exquisite sounds float to the heights of the church

Jackie Wattenberg

It is heart-warming to reflect on the recent season of arts here in Melrose, and just as heart-warming to realize that crowds attended them all; the one-day exhibit of artists in Memorial Hall; the Melrose Symphony, a bit affected by a snowstorm, but hardly neglected; and the full showing of the Highlands Congregational Church last Saturday for the Polymnia Choral Society's "A German Requiem" by Johannes Brahms.

The chorus was in good form under conductor,James E. Reyes' always thoughtful guidance, and the two soloists were enthralling to hear. Denise Konicek is a busy soprano about Boston, and sang her one long solo part with exemplary musicality in a voice of fine middle voice resonance.  She then astonished these ears with wondrously pure and effortless high notes, rising higher and higher with bell-like clarity of bird-song.

How amazing this instrument, the voice, the only human instrument, and how exciting it is to hear a new singer.  A piano is always a piano though the performer presents the music in his own way.  But each voice is individual, and it was a treat to hear such an exquisite sound float to the heights of the church, used so intelligently and sensitively, with perfect control.

Another knockout was baritone David Kravitz.  Also a busy performer in the Boston area and beyond, he is a young singer with a dark-as-tree-bark voice, sepulchral in its deep-well depths, and compelling in both tone and his dramatic energy.  His rugged tones perfectly dramatized the theme of "The Wisdom of Solomon,""Lord, teach me to know the measure of my days on earth," and later, "Lo, I unfold unto you a mystery; we shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye..."

The excitement and foreboding were forcibly conveyed by this young singer's rugged quality and his absorption in the drama of the text.

There is a little music more beautiful and universally loved than Brahms' symphonies; no songs are more beautiful in melody or more poignant than his; his piano pieces and string works are wonderfully melodious and rich harmonically.  This Protestant-based Requiem has many moments of grandeur and drama, some grand arcs of melody.  But to this writer it cannot compare to the passions and Requiems of Bach, Mozart and Verdi.  With no sections of the furious Dies Irae or quieter sections of the Catholic Mass, each section here is more a mixture instead of a sustained mood, thus the constant variations are not so strikng as in those other Requiems.

Polymnia's women voices were spun nicely throughout, and the men's sections often resounded handsomely, even tenors sounded appealing in many passages.  James Reyes makes the most of dynamics in all phases of his chosen music, and did so effectively in this performance.  Chromatic shifting and frequent modulations cannot make this an easy work to learn and do well.  And they all did well, if occasionally, as in the third section, some moments sounded a bit chaotic.

This concert was dedicated to the memory of Eleanor Toland, a member of Polymnia for 28 years who recently died.  The program stated: "Her strong alto voice and friendly smile will be missed by all."

Terry Halco and Deborah Boling played the four-hand piano accompaniment written, said Reyes, by Brahms with no difficulty.  In past performances, organ or an orchestra seemed to enhance the religious theme of the Requiem.

Next for Polymnia - Gilbert and Sullivan's "Pirates of Penzance" on June 5.

Jackie Wattenberg is an arts columnist for the Free Press and a Melrose resident.

April 9, 1999

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