A Wintry Concert From Chorale
Published: Monday, February 25, 2013
Updated: Monday, February 25, 2013 10:02
Gathered in the intimate setting of St. Ignatius Church, the University Chorale of Boston College gave those in attendance a vocal tour de force on what might have been just another dark and dreary Saturday afternoon in the middle of February, but instead became one enlivened by music.
The crowd settled into the pews around 2 p.m., and soon the concert had begun, highlighting pieces from the 16th century to the 20th century. It was a soothing journey on the wings of the University Chorale.
University Chorale director John Finney, now in his 20th year as director, introduced each piece and led the more mature crowd through the hour long concert. Jennifer McPherson, the organ scholar of the class of 2013 at the College of Holy Cross, accompanied the University Chorale. The University Chorale is sometimes accompanied by the prestigious Boston College Symphony Orchestra, but McPherson, who has already gained renown for her own organ recitals, has played with Chorale before. She was praised by Finney for her play throughout the concert.
St. Ignatius as a venue matched Chorale’s driving hymns well. The dimly lit church offered a prime view of the tuxedo and dress clad Chorale who stood where the alter usually rests.
The concert’s set list moved from more traditional Latin pieces before gradually transitioning to later English and American pieces including three vibrant African-American spirituals. Chorale eased the audience in with Latin pieces “Domine, non sum dingus,” “Exsultate Justi,” and “Beati quorum via” which were all fairly short but demonstrated the vast vocal range of Chorale.
The concert began in earnest with several sweeping, echoing pieces that set the quiet, contemplative mood for the rest of the concert. Chorale gave the somber crowd a jolt with George Frideric Handel’s “Thou art the King of Glory,” the concert’s first English piece nearly halfway through the concert. Finney gave the most extensive background to this piece and Handel, a German with an innate understanding of the English language that allowed him to compose such beautiful English hymns. The sopranos led the charge in this piece, as they did most of the concert, with the driving chorus of “Thou art the King of Glory.”
Then came the crown jewel of the concert, when the Chorale performed sections from “Gloria” by Antonio Vivaldi. Performed during the heart of the set, “Gloria” was the longest and most expansive performance of the day, an epic of sorts. Broken into four separate movements, the first, “Et in terra pax,” offered a somber tone that in turned sombered the already quiet audience. But in came “Domine Fili Unigenite” and then “Quoniam” which built on the somber tone with a more uplifting melody that vibrated between the sopranos and basses with ease. Finally came the last movement, “Cum Sancto Spiritu,” whose glorious declarations nearly broke through the dark clouds on a dark Saturday afternoon. It was a stunning feat—to nearly sedate the crowd in quiet meditation one moment only to reanimate them minutes later.
Chorale kept the audience animated following “Gloria” with a rendition of Randal Thompson’s “Alleluia,” a hymn for the most part comprised with one word—alleluia. While the piece may not have fit well into the context of Lent, the piece felt right at home within the walls of St. Ignatius. Alleluias hummed echoed across the wall thanks to the booming voice of Chorale. “Alleluia” had the best ending of any of the pieces Chorale performed. After bouncing Alleluia’s at each other for most of the performance, Chorale finally came together at the end for one final Alleluia as one voice soaring triumphantly through St. Ignatius.
Chorale then belted out three short, though exciting, African-American spirituals: “Every Time I Feel the Spirit” by William Dawson, “Give Me Jesus” by Moses Hogan, and the always exciting “The Battle of Jericho” by Hogan. These spirituals were more accessible than the earlier, more classical pieces. “The Battle of Jericho” resonated within St. Ignatius as much of the audience swayed with the rhythm and thunder of the popular piece.
The concert came to a close with a rendition of “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” by American Mark Wilberg, a driving, celebratory piece.
St. Ignatius remained fairly full throughout the concert as students slid into the back as the concert moved along. The 2 p.m. start time may have been too early to garner a significant student presence. The audience gave its undivided attention to the Chorale vocalists, and Chorale responded with just over an hour of soothing music. The concert surely lacked the pure energy of a dubstep or rock concert but offered a quiet time for reflection led by the voice of Chorale giving meaning to what might have been just another meaningless Saturday afternoon.