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Monday, April 23, 2012

Cherubim & Seraphim: Angel Music of the Masters


The Louisville Chorus – 73rd Season Concert
Daniel Spurlock, Music Director
Special Guest: South Oldham 7th and 8th Grade Women’s Ensemble
Haley A. Reed, Director

Reviewed by Cristina Martin

Entire contents copyright © 2012 Cristina Martin. All rights reserved.


Notions of the Hereafter are probably as varied as are the minds that contemplate it. If indeed some eternal reward awaits the virtuous, many would agree that it must involve sublime beauty. Artists through the ages have striven to re-create this ideal as they conceive of it, to give us just an inkling on earth of what it’s like in heaven. If the afterlife includes cherubim and seraphim who sing like the Louisville Chorus, I want to go there.

Billed as the “longest thriving, most frequently performing choral arts agency in Kentuckiana and neighboring states,” the Louisville Chorus is a venerable member of the city’s arts scene. Attendees at the most recent concert of its 73rd season were treated to a well chosen variety of pieces:  a mixture of classical, traditional ecclesiastical and more contemporary arrangements. The breathtaking interior of St. Agnes Catholic Church was a most appropriate setting, and yet music lovers of any faith tradition were made to feel welcome in what was clearly a concert rather than a religious service.

Composer Camille Saint-Saens.
The big, balanced sound of the Chorus from Saint-Saëns’ Christmas Oratorio opened the evening, followed by the sweet, slow Cherubim Song (No. 7) by Dimitri Bortniansky, arranged by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. Director Daniel Spurlock seems to place special emphasis on dynamic nuances, which makes all the difference in the world in the texture and subtlety of the music.

After the hymn Ye Holy Angels Bright – in which the chorus was accompanied by violinist Jack Griffin, who shone particularly in the last stanza, and double-bassist Jacquelyn Kuhens – the audience was treated to the gorgeous solo work of soprano Haley A. Reed in excerpts from Handel’s Messiah. Her lovely, pure voice was perfect for the recitatives and a delight later in the evening as well when she sang a solo in Mozart’s Laudate Dominum from Vesperae solennes de confessore, K. 339.  

A definite highlight of the concert was the challenging a cappella Holy, Holy, Holy by Paul Satre. The deep, low tones of the male voices at the beginning swelled and merged gradually with the others, building to the top of a crescendo through interesting chords and key changes. This was followed by a pleasing Bach piece, Zion Hears the Watchmen Singing, and by César Franck’s Panis Angelicus, featuring tenor Bill Howell.  Howell’s voice was controlled and reverent, more restrained than in some other tenors’ renditions but agreeable nonetheless. He was similarly up to the task in his recitatives from Franz Joseph Haydn’s The Creation in the concert’s second half.

Composer Franz Josef Haydn.
Portrait by Thomas Hardy, 1792.
Soprano Reed is the director of the South Oldham 7th and 8th Grade Women’s Ensemble, who joined the Louisville Chorus for Quiet Sea, by Jill Friedersdorf and Melissa Malvar-Keylock, and for the Hallelujah, Amen from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus right before intermission. The young women sang beautifully and were every bit as professional as their fellow musicians in the Chorus. What a refreshing and wonderful example of artistic cooperation among the generations, and how inspiring for all involved!

The second half of the concert opened with the hymn Holy God, We Praise Thy Name in a striking arrangement by Louisville Chorus accompanist and mainstay Therese Davis. It takes extraordinary musicianship as well as a special knack for accompaniment to do the caliber of work Davis evidenced in the course of the evening, commanding multiple keyboards and always complementing but never overshadowing the vocalists. She brings her organic knowledge of the ensemble to bear in her arrangement of this hymn, which came off quite successfully. The altos were a bit loud at times, but the concluding Amen sequence was sublime.

Soprano Darlene Welch lent her well-heeled voice to the solo part in Hymns by Paul McKusker and David Maddux, to impressive operatic effect. She, tenor Howell and bass Alexander Redden formed a trio for The Heavens Are Telling in Haydn’s Creation. Redden’s rich, warm voice, to which we were first introduced in Judas Maccabaeus, was a pleasure to listen to. The memorable swells of sound in Craig Courtney’s Sanctus deserve mention as well, as does the appropriate majesty with which Bach’s Break Forth, O Beauteous Heavenly Light was performed.  

The South Oldham Women’s Ensemble joined the Chorus once again for the final number of the evening, Prologue in the Heavens Final Psalmody, from the opera Mefistofele by Arrigo Boito. The young women sang the part of a celestial choir proclaiming ultimate redemption. Instrumentalists Griffin and Kuhens added a great deal here as elsewhere, contributing breadth and depth to the musical landscape. Expressive and grand, the final selection proved a fitting conclusion to an evening of otherworldly delights.

The motto of the Louisville Chorus is “Refining Life through the Power of Music.” Indeed, this most recent concert underscored the ability of the art form to reach and stir audiences -- in this case to uplift them, literally, as their hearts and minds were invited to contemplate the celestial. But the Chorus offers a rich variety of music besides. Its next concert, “Broadway at Its Best,” slated for June 3, will feature Tony Award-winning songs. “Fanfare for the 4th: Musical Visions of America,” which will be held on July 2, is an annual multimedia experience not to be missed.

We are truly fortunate to have a musical institution like the Louisville Chorus in our midst. May it continue to enrich the lives of those whom its art touches for a long time to come.


Cherubim & Seraphim:  Angel Music of the Masters

The Louisville Chorus
April 20, 2012, 7:30 p.m.
St. Agnes Catholic Church
1920 Newburg Road
Louisville, KY 40205

For details of upcoming concerts, visit LouisvilleChorus.org or call (502) 968-6300.

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