Music of Parisian Beauty

REVIEW:  Bringing The Washington Chorus’ season to a close was a French themed program of sacred gems.

by Patrick D. McCoy

The Voices of The Washington Chorus and the Washington National Cathedral Choir of Girls and Boys at the conclusion the Parisian themed concert.

The Voices of The Washington Chorus and the Washington National Cathedral Choir of Girls and Boys at the conclusion the Parisian themed concert. (Photo:  Patrick D. McCoy)

One thing that you can count on when attending an event in Washington is the unifying factor of a theme.  That certainly was true as The Washington Chorus presented a program at The Kennedy Center appropriately themed “A Parisian Spring.”  The concert featured sacred choral masterworks by French composers Louis Vierne, Maurice Duruflé  and Gabriel Fauré conducted by music director Julian Wachner.  For those who attended the gala earlier in the week that preceded the Sunday afternoon concert, it certainly was a glorious punctuation to an even larger occasion.  Dianne Peterson, who has served as Executive Director of The Washington Chorus was fêted at the Parisian Gala at the French Embassy for her 32 years of service and leadership.  So this concert by the chorus in many ways was continuation of the celebration.

Opening the program was Duruflé’s Messe “Cum Jubilo,”  Opus 11.   Sung by the men of the chorus, Julian Wachner conducted the robust voices accompanied at the organ by Thierry Escaich, Duruflé’s direct successor at the church of St-Etienne-du-Mond in Paris.  Almost distinctly, there was a wonderful rich, sonority of sound that Escaich was able to command from the Kennedy Center’s Rubenstein Family Organ, which was designed by French-Canadian organ builder Casavant Frères.  There was a wide range of expression and musical depth exhibited in the singing by the ensemble of male voices..  The opening “Kyrie” highlighted the uniformity of sound in the unison voices, showcasing the attention to blend and vocal nuance.  In the “Gloria”  guest organist Thierry Escaich accompanied with the full organ, providing the perfect momentum for the voices to soar with majesty in to the hall.

Thierry Escaich is known around the world for his gift of improvisation.  As a special treat, the name DIANNE PETERSON was the perfect inspiration behind a transcendent organ solo based on the letters of her name.  From the roar and power of the organ, to the light, dulcet flute stops-Escaisch rendered a mesmerizing performance in tribute to a leader who has embodied a myriad of gifts and talents. The “Cantique de Jean Racine” by Gabriel Faure was beautifully sung by the voices of the full choir.  Kennedy Center’s Casavant organ served the evening of music very well.   The “Kyrie” from Louis Vierne’s  Solemn Mass allowed organist Escaich to “let it rip”  imploring almost the full resources of the organ in the opening prelude before the choir’s entrance.  Whether it was the fugal entrances of the choral voices-one theme after the other or the full-throated singing of the entire choir, conductor Julian Wachner masterfully brought it all together accompanied by the grandeur of the organ.  Bringing the first half of the concert to a close was Wachner’s “At the Lighting of the Lamps.”  Exemplifying the variety of his compositional style, this work composed shortly after he finished his doctorate.  It certainly did not disappoint.  From the opening solo flute to the perhaps unorthodox combination of the soft flute against the powerful sound of the organ:  Wachner in his trademark way pushed all envelopes to convey his intent and expression of the sacredness of this ceremony.

How many choirs can say that they have sung the “Requiem” by Maurice Duruflé accompanied by the composer’s direct successor?  The Washington Chorus can certainly add that to its list of landmark performances.  There was certainly a transcendent quality to the performance.  Joined by the Washington National Cathedral Choir of Girls and Boys, the combined voices sublimely rendered one of the most sublime settings of the Requiem.  The “Kyrie Eleison”  found the choir in fine form.  Opening with the warmth of the men’s voices, the choral voices grew to a full forte matched by the organ’s rich accompaniment.  Most impressive was how the organist (Thierry Escaisch) was able to use the sounds of the organ to punctuate or enhance each choral movement.  From the big powerful reed solo stop, to the warmth of the string stops on the organ there was a complete picture of faith mirrored in the music.

A wonderfully planned evening of music brought the chorus’ season to an elegant close, a trademark ending of Parisian flair.

After earning degrees in music from Virginia State University and Shenandoah University, Patrick D. McCoy has contributed arts pieces to  CBS Washington and The Afro-American Newspaper, among others.  He also writes Washington Life Magazine’s monthly performing arts column “Perfect Pitch.”  McCoy may be reached via email at wlperformingarts@aol.com and on Twitter @PatrickDMcCoy.

 

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