Stirring Herald of Spring

The Choral Society of the Hamptons spring concert
The Choral Society of the Hamptons trumpeted spring with a concert accompanied by brass instruments and organ, by Thom Bohlert, above, and conducted by Walter Klauss. Durell Godfrey

The Choral Society of the Hamptons mounted an ambitious and enjoyable program at the East Hampton Presbyterian Church on Sunday titled “Trumpeting Spring.” Walter Klauss, one of the society’s frequent guest conductors, led the performance with invaluable assistance from Thom Bohlert at the organ and a brass quartet.

The concert opened with Bruce Saylor’s stirring “Jubilate: Fantasy on a Traditional Melody,” which explores the musical possibilities of a plainchant setting of the text Corde natus (“Of the Father’s Love Begotten”). The chorus achieved robust forte sounds as well as thrilling piano passages in an arrangement that is rather straightforward for the singers but more intense at the organ.  

Mr. Bohlert deserves commendation for adept playing throughout the concert, but his handling of Saylor’s many challenging passages in this piece merits special recognition. A moment that stood out as a perfect mesh between compositional intention and its execution occurred during the contrapuntal “psallat altitudo caeli,” where it became all-too-briefly possible to imagine legions of angels singing praise. 

The motet “In ecclesiis” by Giovanni Gabrieli (1557-1612) was next. As mentioned in Miriam S. Michel’s thorough program notes, Gabrieli took leadership of St. Mark’s Cathedral in Venice as the Baroque style had begun to assert itself in Italy. One new emphasis of the style was to give prominence to a single melody, allowing listeners to understand the sung text at first hearing. Accordingly, the first two textual sections featured unison soprano-alto and tenor-bass, with each concluded by a tutti “Alleluia!” 

The choral blend was not as successful between the men as between the sopranos and altos. The first entrance of the brass quartet occurred during this piece, and it was stirring indeed. While the concert venue was no Venetian St. Mark’s, the high wooden ceilings allowed the instrumental sounds to spread beautifully through the space without covering the voices. The final section (“O God, our refuge”) featured intricately interwoven layers of melody from the voices, brass, and organ, showing that Gabrieli had not completely abandoned the Renaissance affinity for counterpoint.

Claudio Monteverdi (1567-1643) was a key bridge between Renaissance and Baroque musical styles, not only as a composer, but also through his writings. In this, the briefer of his two settings of the Magnificat, Monteverdi may have realized that the new Baroque emphasis on harmonically guided melodies would require more attention to variations in texture (something already built in to Renaissance counterpoint). 

The second movement, “Anima mea,” was a lovely blend and balance between the sopranos and altos, and the “Quia fecit mihi magna” revealed an incredibly rich tone in the alto section. Several portions of the Magnificat call for individuals or small groups to employ vocal techniques that are somewhat peculiar to the early Baroque period, and these proved to be a stretch for some of the singers, which may be an inherent danger when members of the chorus who may not be well versed in the vocal traditions of a highly transitional period are featured. However, a highlight occurred in the “Deposuit” movement, in which a duet between Christine Cadarette and Maria Fumai Dietrich went beyond masterful technique to offer a visually playful perspective on the fate of the mighty. The final movement, “Sicut erat,” featured the full chorus confidently singing Monteverdi’s counterpoint and delivering a glorious finish to the piece.

(Longtime Choral Society fans will note that Christine Cadarette’s name tends to appear just about everywhere. She accompanies rehearsals and sings in almost any section of the chorus, her other jobs notwithstanding. She is one of the unsung heroes of the area.)

Out of all the works on Sunday, “Gloria” by Bob Chilcott came across as the one in which the singers were most comfortable and therefore performed at their best. It’s not surprising; choristers with experience singing in Latin tend to appreciate familiar texts, such as this section of the Mass, and Chilcott tends to write for voices in a manner reflective of typical modern ranges. 

The brass quartet returned to the sonic tapestry for the first movement, inspiring a thrilling rhythmic and harmonic synergy with the chorus in “Gloria in excelsis Deo.” The following movement, “Domine Deus,” showcased the fine expressivity, dynamic flexibility, and blend of the chorus. Its structure is reminiscent of some religious works by 19th-century operatists (e.g., Rossini’s Stabat mater), where a composer of dramatic stage works decides to explore the expressive possibilities of a sacred text. 

The third section, “Qui tollis peccata mundi,” began by allowing the soprano and alto sections to show how beautifully they blend when singing in a comfortable range, and it concluded with the entire chorus effecting a marvelous unison sound. Anyone cognizant of Chilcott’s anthems for church choirs would find his compositional techniques in this movement familiar. The final movement, “Quoniam tu solus sanctus,” saw the return of the brass quartet and its rhythmic drive, similar in energy to the opening movement.

To conclude the program, the chorus and brass quartet once more united to deliver a Bruce Saylor arrangement, this time a setting of the 1907 English text written by Henry van Dyke to align with the “Ode to Joy” melody from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. The audience responded enthusiastically to sing along, resulting in a stirring and satisfying finish to the concert. 

Adam Judd is a member of the faculty of the Ross School in East Hampton.