The Concordia Choir under the direction of noted composer and conductor, René Clausen began its 2011 concert tour with a performance in Washington, D. C. at the National Presbyterian Church. Journeying from Moorhead, Minnesota, the renowned choir will perform several concerts along the east coast, including performances at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, Christ Church Cathedral in Cincinnatti, Ohio and culminate in a homecoming concert March 6 at Concordia College in Memorial Auditorium. (SEE THE ENTIRE ITINERARY HERE) This program was sponsored by National Lutheran Community Services in one of many efforts to further support its mission of meeting the needs of senior citizens. CEO of National Lutheran Community Services Larry Bradshaw was on hand to give words of greeting and appreciation to all those who made the presentation of The Concordia Choir possible.
From the very entrance of the choir, to the manner of their singing, The Concordia Choir exuded a sense of joy that set the tone for a magnificent evening of choral music. Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s motet for double choir Venite populi provided the perfect opening piece. Clausen was expressive in his conducting, bringing a sense of buoyancy to the sound. There is so much to be said about this foretaste of music that would set the tone of the program: uniformity in vocal entrances, lovely dynamic contrast and the exceptional accompanying student instrumental ensemble that was comprised of violinists Anthony Eddleston, Sadie Ellingson, violist Logan Rutten, cellist Shane Sessions and Joe Trucano on portative organ. The wonderful reverb of the sanctuary further enhanced the heavenly sound of the choir.
The well-known communion motet, Ave Verum Corpus (Mozart) was sung beautifully with a sense of devout reverence, further enhanced by lovely command of legato in the choral phrases. A glowing moment in this short motet was at the soprano entrance on the words ‘in cruce’ which the voices embodied a plea of anguish, crying out about Christ’s death. The altos, tenors and basses then answered, followed by a gorgeous duet between the sopranos and altos on the word ‘esto’ then again joined by the resonant fervor of the tenors and bassses. This would be a great point to mention the rich resonant sound of the bass section of the choir, which never disappointed, providing the ‘bedrock’ to the choral singing throughout the program.
A choir of rich Lutheran tradition, the inclusion of music of Johann Sebastian Bach was a welcomed one indeed. Excerpts 1, 5, 6, and 11 from the motet Jesu Meine Freude were masterfully sung, each movement possessing its own mood. The initial chorale was sung very sweetly. Chorus 5 was sung with a sense of sacred devotion, accentuated by the moving passagework in the bass line. Movement 6 was a choral fugue, with each vocal entrance sung with exuberance. Ending the section of the Bach was chorale 11, which reprised the initial melody of the chorale. Following in the rich tradition of the English Cathedral Anthem was Lord,Thou Hast Been our Refuge by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The beginning of the anthem was sung a cappella, with the melody of the hymn tune Saint Anne (O God Our Help in Ages Past) set somewhat like a cantus firmus, serving as an affirmation to the text, Lord thou hast been our refuge from one generation to another. Concordia organ performance major, Joe Trucano made lovely use of the solo reed stops, building the organ accompaniment in full majesty. Resounding forth with O God Our Help in Ages Past, the anthem came to a triumphant close.
After a brief intermission, Dr. Clausen expressed his appreciation to the audience and took a moment to give further explanation to the Choral Concerto, Mvt. 3, by Alfred Schnittke. The piece was an impressive combination of both old and new. The beginning sounded primitive, perhaps modal in nature with the men of the choir and the sopranos particularly excelled in beautifully sustained notes that often tested the boundaries of the vocal range. Unfamiliar harmonies were a more welcomed aspect of the music thanks to the prior explanation before the piece was performed. This work presented a challenge for the singers and the well-execution made the perhaps unfamiliar selection a thrill for the audience.
The section of the program themed: A Journey through Dreams and Imagination was a whimsical musical journey. The Cloud-Capp’d Towers by Vaughan Williams was beautifully sung a cappella, providing the perfect segue into Eric Whitacre’s ethereal Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine. This piece was filled with swelling crescendos, gorgeous suspensions and sublime harmonies. What set this piece apart was the use of non-traditional vocal sounds, hand drums, tambourine and bells, all creating a mystical atmosphere that was ‘out of this world!’ A piece for triple choir, Me-Na-Ri by Hyo-Won Woo followed. The piece was quite effective, imploring the spatial vastness of the sanctuary, native language, syncopated rhythms and specific choreographed movements. Ending this portion of the program was the reflective setting of the familiar text Christ the Appletree by Stanford E. Scriven.
Bringing the program to a close was an array of hymns, spirituals and folk songs. Most impressive was the choir’s excellent execution of Moses Hogan’s arrangement of the traditional spiritual My Soul’s Been Anchored in the Lord, which was sung with much integrity by the choir, free of exaggeration. It was evident that the ensemble was in tune with the nature of the genre and is to be commended for the authenticity of their rendering. Putting a reverent hush over the sanctuary was the setting of F. Melius Christiansen’s Beautiful Savior. Mezzo-soprano Patricia Kramer’s voice was full of generous warmth, supported by the lush beauty of the choir. The Concordia Choir was well received by the large audience that came to hear the celebrated choir.