Polymnia presents peace in impressive performance 

 ... "choral society is still in good hands."

by Jackie Wattenberg / Artbeat

Re-printed with permission from the Melrose Free Press,
Thursday, March 27, 2003

Polymnia Choral Society's new conductor, Michelle Graveline, brought Melrose a wonderful evening of great music that assured its large and loyal audiences that this 49-year-old institution is still in good hands.

Peace and war were the themes of the evening, starting off with a stunning performance of Haydn's "Mass in Time of War" with superb soloists. This work had been selected nine months ago before the threat of war was sensed, the conductor thinking "more of the war on terrorism." She spoke with ease and sincerity of "the scourge of war," but urged we "keep in mind those whose lives are on the line."

The first solo voice we heard in the Mass was a soprano flight into high arcs of lustrous, silver clarity, effortless and seamless - Denise Konicek, a very high soprano undaunted by any tricky top-range rills. Now we must give time to the incredible bass, Alexander Prokhorov. It has been many a year since this writer has heard a true deep bass, a basso profondo, and here he was - tones that immediately astonished with their midnight-dark, chasm-depth of richness and powerful timber. The Russians - note his name - and Welsh seem to produce these great sepulchral voices, and Prokhorov is one of the rare ones. Some deep bassos can have trouble controlling their vibrato, but this fine singer has a fluid, musical legato that expressed the music's message with drama and excitement.

The highest and lowest voices can be most on display; the mezzo-soprano or contralto has to contend with instrumental parts in her range, so quite competitive. But Danute Mileika has a voice of warm and dark umber beauty, that blended with the other solo voices in the duet and quartet sections. Tenor solos were a bit neglected here by Haydn, but Richard Monroe's voice is of a delightful resonance, nicely rising to high climaxes with ease and appealing quality.

The Mass is remarkably romantic and strong for his time, the 1700s, with much drama and contrasts woven from unexpected modulations and chromatic passages, a work heavier than his symphonies. And the conductor brought out the music's power in observing its many moods by steadfast attention to the dynamics, sometimes gaining sublime pianissimo sheaths of sound that showed off the quality of the chorus, which was in very good form, reaching resounding climaxes and responding to the conductor's demand for quick and challenging runs.

The tenors, traditionally small in number in choruses almost anywhere, were on their toes with no stressful moments. Surprisingly, the sopranos, a strong section of Polymnia, a couple of times hit a high note that was strained. Otherwise, the quality of the chorus was full and seemingly dedicated to the power of this mass.

The last half of the program was also dedicated to the peace, in songs of contemporary creation, all light and interesting. In eloquent program notes and in comments before the piece, Graveline told us that the song by Belgian-born Noel Goermanne, "Hymnus Pro Pace," repeats the words, "Dona nobis Pacem," or "Give Us Peace," in many different languages, "showing that all nations long for the same thing." A distinctive and compelling little work.

A serious piece written in response to Sept. 11, 2001, "Invocation (2002)," by Fenno Heath, a former Yale University Glee Club director, and Rene Clausen's "Peace I Leave with You," which had an interesting kind of counterpoint and delicately spun soft sections, filled out their program. Graveline may have been surprised at the response to her suggestion that the audience join with the chorus in the final "Let There Be Peace on Earth." Choir voices issued some interesting arrangements but the audience was singing with such gusto that it could barely be heard. A satisfying closure of the concert.

Very busy all evening in excellent support of the chorus were pianist David Richardson and timpanist Scott Macnair.

The delicacies offered at concert's end and the interesting in-and-out arrangement of tables also receive a top-notch review.

Photos by Stringer Don Norris

April 4, 2003

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