Reviews ...

Polymnia brings many Ave Marias to St. Mary's Church

... a thoughtful choice

by Jackie Wattenberg

It was a thoughtful choice on Sunday, March 22nd, to bring Polymnia Society's spring concert of Ave Marias to St. Mary's Catholic Church, where the beauty of the acoustics and the lofty interior enhance the performance.

Director Murray Kidd knows his way around the human voice to bring out the best in his chorus, adding, this time, a fine selection of instrumentalists for some of the songs, and beginning the program strikingly with several pieces a cappella, no piano. An impressive opening, contemporary Eva Loller's "Ave Maria" issuing with an exquisite pianissimo, the choir's voices folding over each other with legato warmth and purity of tone.

Soprano soloist Teresa Wakim brought added interest with a voice of lambent beauty, no weakness in her range, and full expression of her two solo parts, Mater Amabilis by Mozart and an interesting work by Jose Mauricio Nunes Garcia from Rio de Janieiro, who died in 1830. In this second piece the soprano was beautifully joined by a fine flutist, Caroline McCrossan, the combined sound of solos and chorus carried affectingly in that large chamber.

There was a good bit of rearranging and waiting for members of the little orchestra to take their places, but it was worth it. The beauty of cellist Rebecca Thomblade's tone rising from the front of the hall; the darkness of Nancy Kidd's doublebass; the unfailing richness of violins -- Heidi Braun-Hill and Maureen Taranto; Abigail Kubert Cross's finely phrased viola -- these all augmented the charm and quality of the program. As always, pianist Dorothy Travis was superbly supportive of the chorus.

The chorus itself sounded better that ever -- a cohesive blending of all parts in sonorous balance. This time the number of sopranos had decreased, outnumbered by altos. But interestingly, the soprano tone, always admired in the past for its forceful power, in this performance, when focused on high range, was intensely clear and pure. Just one high climax in the Howell Magnificat was strained. In one of the first songs, the altos, otherwise fulfilling their deep toned role, entered with a surge of heavy chest tone.

When first learning that the program would feature music to the "Ave Maria," one might assume that the program would mostly bring early composers. But only a few turned up. The earliest -- Hildegard von Bingen, 1098-1179, whose song was built a lovely legato line presented effectively by the chorus. One of the highlights of the varied program, a nice surprise, was by the great cellist Pablo Casals, Total Pulchra Es Maria, with a gentle and peaceful flowing melody.

The variety of works, interesting if not all notable, offered the modern harmonies of Lynn-born Daniel Pinkham, from his Stabat Mater. How great men's voices alone can sound was demonstrated handsomely in a song by an anonymous composer of the 16th century.

In the middle of the program, St. Mary's Family Choir appeared with a group of light songs. With just a couple of adults, the sound was refreshingly youthful. There seemed to be little attention to dynamics, which could have brought off some sweet pianissimos, but the audience was enthusiastic about them. They returned near the program's end in the complicated arrangement by Mr. Kidd of Shubert's "Ave Maria." An interesting project for all of his performers, it was probably best as arranged by the composer himself.

A good crowd was there for this young conductor who has emerged as one of our music world's new stars. As usual after the concert, the delicacies prepared by Polymnia members and friends were superb.

This article appeared in the Melrose Free Press, March 26, 2009, and is published here with permission of that newspaper.

April 3, 2009

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