of Battenkill Chorale Premiere of
A Spectacle of Glory
Chorale show versatile strength
The Battenkill Chorale did more than just sing well at its Sunday afternoon concert at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. It showed it could sing over a broad spectrum of styles, from Mozart to the very difficult yet quite wonderful new work by Daniel Pinkham, A Spectacle of Glory.
On Saturday night, the chorus gave the world premiere of the Pinkham, so Sunday’s performance was its second attempt. Pinkham based the work on passages from Ecclesiastes, taking his cue from the texts to create a colorful, strongly declamatory and vibrant score that depicts everything from snowstorms to the heavens.
Although the work is in English, the challenges faced by the 88-voice chorus and soloists – soprano Gene Marie Callahan kern, alto Susan Fedak, tenor Rand Reeves and bass Keith Kibler – were handling the highly chromatic lines, that were more instrumental than vocal, and hearing the dark harmonies that sometimes didn’t resolve.
Everyone seemed up to the task. All the soloists were in excellent voice and the chorus sounded resolute and very well-balanced. The 19-piece orchestra, which conductor Janet McGhee kept in excellent balance, was equally adept.
The smaller 26-voice chamber choir, with pianist Erich Borden, did a nice job of three of Pinkham’s songs from his Nativity Madrigals (1981). Occasionally, the upper voices sounded strained.
26 November 2003
The spiritual roots of classical music run deep. Whether the work is specifically religious or a celebration of the human spirit, such as Beethoven’s famed Ninth Symphony, classical music, at its best, is an exploration of spirit, thought and deep emotion. There is no better way to express these elements than through choral singing. Sunday’s Battenkill Chorale performance at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Greenwich was an exquisite example of that tradition.
The Chorale, directed by Janet McGhee, presented a program of variety and depth not often heard in this region. The centerpiece was the world premiere of Daniel Pinkham’s A Spectacle of Glory, commissioned by the Battenkill Chorale in commemoration of the American composer’s 80th birthday. Scored for orchestra, chorus and four solo voices, it is a textbook demonstration of the art of “word painting” – using musical effects to illustrate specific lines of text.
From the powerful declaration of the opening “What a masterpiece is the clear vault of the sky!” to the mysterious and brooding setting of Section III’s ode to the moon, Dr. Pinkham demonstrates clear mastery. His music is accessible without pandering, and is built solidly on the foundation of such 20th century masters as Francis Poulenc and Igor Stravinsky, while retaining a distinctly American sound. Dr. Pinkham is a “no frills” composer (perhaps it’s the New England thing) who doesn’t waste one note. He writes without excess and with little repetition. You must pay attention to “get it.” Fortunately, Dr. Pinkham’s makes paying attention pure pleasure.
We were also treated to a delightful set from his Nativity Madrigals. Here, we got to hear something not often associated with “classical” music – a composer’s sense of humor. From the charming setting of the call of an owl in “The Guardian Owl” to the snappy closing cadence of “What did the Baby give the Kings?,” the poems of Norma Faber couldn’t have been in better hands.