Reviews ...

Soloists, Chorus Made for Powerful, Pleasing Team

... conductor's impeccable musicianship holds almost the full church still 

by Jackie Wattenberg

In a concert of indisputably the finest choral works, the Polymnia Choral Society brought four topnotch soloists to join their ranks on Saturday, April 1, in the Melrose Highlands Congregational Church.

As with the Melrose Symphony, the chorus has a loyal audience, and one that seems to be growing larger with each performance. Conductor James E. Reyes brought his impeccable musicianship in choosing the works of Mozart, Purcell, Haydn, several Schubert songs and a setting of Walt Whitman words by Ralph Vaughan Williams, and imbuing them with interpretations that expressed their styles and text meanings and held the almost full church still -- barely a cough.

There was a suggestion of high drama in the appearance of soprano Trudi Hill -- with just two days' notice replacing Denise Konicek who was ill. She has a voice of alluring brilliance, high notes of sparkling fire and full tones throughout her register. Familiar with only one work of the program, she deserved accolades for so rapidly grasping the far-from-easy pages of a Purcell Te Deum, the Haydn Missa Sancti Nicolai, Schubert's high-powered "Omnipotence," and to sing once more a Mozart Laudate Dominum with this chorus.

Ms. Hill had admirable support from her fellow soloists -- Diana Jacklin, a mezzo-soprano with lovely dusky-warmth, beautifully blending with the soprano; tenor, John Sullivan, whose robust tones were always firm and resounding with feeling; and baritone, Charles Turner, whose strong, rich tones were malleable to all demands and very appealing.

A fifth soloist, not cited in the program, also chorus member, Blaine Steblecki, joined the soloists in the opening Purcell Te Deum. The trio of women's voices, uncommon in choral works, was compelling in the beauty of its sound.

And a violin soloist as well added a lovely touch. Adam Silk who played in the exquisite, delicately poignant Mozart "Laudate Dominum," perhaps the highlight of the evening as sung by Ms. Hill and the chorus. The soprano spun out the beautiful long lines of melody with stunning ease and rhapsodic tones.

The Haydn "Missa Sancti Nicolai," not an easy work for either soloists or chorus, came off handsomely. Demanding choral and solo parts rang out forcefully, tenor Sullivan absolutely enthralling in a solo in the Credo. His operatic quality sometimes dominated, because of its power, but it was a treat to hear this power and his passion.

The chorus was in fine fettle, women's voices secure as always, the sopranos called on to reach for high B's, which they did with apparent ease. Tenors who were formerly skittish have gained confidence and at times a lovely sound on certain open vowels, though at times issuing so-called "white" tones from lack of openness. The chorus made Vaughan Williams' "Toward the Unknown Region," to Whitman's "Darest Thou Now O Soul," a delightful, multi-colored work. The composer's broad, transparent sheaths of sound and fresh shifts in harmony were entrancing and the chorus seemed to enjoy the music.

A hint of struggle appeared in Schubert's "Omnipotence" with the four soloists, a forceful, unrelenting challenge for the human voice. Ms. Hill met the high tessatura brilliantly, her opulent tones admirable, though with a little more vibrato than usual. The chorus enjoyed the lovelier, more typically romantic, expressive songs of Schubert.

The opening "Te Deum in C Major" of Purcell held the attractive solo voices and some tricky parts for the chorus. The work was performed pretty much in straight-forward, clipped fashion, with less shifting in dynamics than usual.

Still to come for Polymnia -- Carl Orff's "Carmina Burana," June 10 in Memorial Hall, returning Ms. Hill with tenor Murray Kidd and baritone Donald Wilkinson.

April 21, 2000

Previously printed in The Melrose Free Press on April 6, 2000. Reprinted with permission from the Melrose Free Press.

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