DCINY presents Messiah…Refreshed!

DCINY presents Messiah…Refreshed!

Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Jonathan Griffith, Conductor
Penelope Shumate, Soprano
Claudia Chapa, Mezzo-Soprano
John McVeigh, Tenor
Christopher Job, Bariton
Sunday, November 27, 2016, 2 PM
Carnegie Hall, Stern Auditorium

 

Well, the holiday season is officially here, with the sixth annual presentation of Messiah in the “inflated” version commissioned by Sir Thomas Beecham from Eugene Goossens for the Handel death-bicentennial in 1959. I shall try not to be too Scrooge-like about it, that wouldn’t really be in the spirit of things! I first heard (and reviewed) this version two years ago with pleasure, and the interpretation is remarkably consistent across that time. Only the mezzo-soprano was different (and of course the massed choirs). The whole endeavor, powered by Jonathan Griffith’s committed conducting, gives enjoyment to the performers and to their audience, so after all it must be counted a success, even if one has quibbles with specifics.

Is there any other single work that so identifies its composer, almost to the exclusion of Handel’s numerous other worthy genres: opera, cantata, organ music, anthems, even the other oratorios?

The grand old tradition of Handel-tampering, of course, began with Handel himself and continued through Mozart, Hiller, and many others. Gigantism began as early as 1784 in British performances of the then hallowed Handel with a 513-performer rendition. The European Magazine wrote: “The immense volume and torrent of sound was almost too much for the head or the sense to bear—we were elevated into a species of delirium.” Sir Joshua Reynolds wrote: “I was so delighted that I thought myself in the heavenly regions. The Harmony so unbroken that is was like the fall of Waters from one source, imperceptibly blended. The Spectacle too was sublime, So universal a silence, So great a number of people.” In an 1857 British performance, there were 2000 vocal and 500 instrumental forces. In 1859: 2765 singers, 450 instruments. In 1883: 4000 singers, 500 instruments. Objections to these outsize forces were also found as early as the beginning of the nineteenth century, but they were outweighed by Victorian reverence for Handel combined with the explosive growth of choral societies. G.B. Shaw, in the early twentieth century, also pleaded for something closer to what Handel might have known: “People think that four thousand singers must be four thousand times as impressive as one. This is a mistake: they are not even louder.”

I will confess that when I counted upwards of 400 names in the choral listing in the program booklet, I was a bit nervous. However, Griffith seems to have selected about half of them for Part 1 duty, then they retire to the balconies on either side of the audience, and after intermission the other half performs Parts 2 & 3. Choir 1 did not have clean runs; but Choir 2 did, and Griffith was quite merciless in pursuing brisk tempi that almost prevented anything but a choral smudge. Their block chord work however, was mostly exciting, and he even managed to elicit a few softer sounds from these large forces. All 400-plus joined together for the “Hallelujah” chorus and the concluding “Worthy is the lamb that was slain” for a truly thrilling sound that had actually been missing most of the afternoon in the “mere” 200-voice choirs. Even some audience members couldn’t resist the temptation to add their voices to the mix during “Hallelujah.”

Handel began work in 1741 in London on Messiah for a series of concerts for Irish charities, at the invitation of William Cavendish; the series would include many other works as well. Handel started on 22 August, Part 1 was complete by 28 August, Part 2 by 6 September, and Part 3 on 12 September. A few more days were added, polishing up the results, twenty-four days in all. Of course none of this could have happened without Handel’s well-known recourse to self-borrowing, or even appropriation from other composers, for which he was taken to task more than once in his lifetime. (Although William Boyce reportedly said: “He takes other men’s pebbles and polishes them into diamonds.”) Handel also reworked many numbers from it considerably over the years. Handel himself associated the performance of Messiah with Easter, but modern practice also favors Christmas—the text, dubbed a “Scripture collection” by its creator Charles Jennens, outlines all the festivals of the Christian church-year.

The premiere was in Dublin, 13 April 1742 (at noon), at the New Musick Hall in Fishamble Street, seat of the Charitable Musical Society. The audience capacity was between 600 and 700. Handel had to provide his own organ (portable, called a “bureau” organ) since there was none in the hall. Several of his own organ concerti were also on the bill with Messiah in what must have been a long afternoon of music. The chorus consisted of thirty-two: sixteen men and sixteen boys. The solos were considered so taxing that there was more than one soloist for each voice type.

Today’s soloists were uniformly excellent, with soprano Penelope Shumate and her sparkling coloratura perfection in “Rejoice greatly” and a very affecting “I know that my Redeemer liveth,” though at times her English had an “Italian” accent with many schwas at the end of words (they add clarity, but can be overdone). Claudia Chapa, mezzo-soprano, sang with absolute heart, so much so that I wished “He was despised” was not cut, but would go on forever (I really wanted to hear how she would express “He gave his back to the smiters.”). All afternoon her phrases were of admirable length, she seems to have unlimited air supply. Tenor John McVeigh reprised the sweet lyric quality that I remember so well from two years ago, tending to shade a bit sharp (nerves?) near the beginning, and once in a while chopping up phrases or single words instead of sustaining a legato. His “Behold and see if there is any sorrow” was beautiful. His most endearing trait was the attention he paid to his other colleagues when they were singing their solos, he even turned to face the chorus with an air of painful surprise as they hurled their accusatory “He trusted in God that he would deliver him,” before returning to face forward. Bass Christopher Job again had the perfect sound for the punishing “The trumpet shall sound,” but there were some weird additional musical lines in the orchestra during “The people that walked in darkness” that threatened to “like sheep,” lead the music astray. All the soloists risked being overbalanced by the heavier orchestra, but only at times (too much cymbal!)

May I suggest that Maestro Griffith go ahead and make his own version of this version, so to speak, removing some of the dated bombast and perhaps clarifying a few textures here and there? I do admire his devotion to this “relic” however. By the way, since this is not only about the massed choirs, but a substantial re-orchestration, the fact that the excellent orchestra is not listed person-by-person in the program is a grave injustice. The concertmaster is excellent, and the clarino trumpet was superb. The hushed return of the A section of the “Pifa” (Pastoral Symphony) was gorgeous, as it was two years ago.

The work affords the chance for these dedicated multi-state and international choruses, whose individual conductors were acknowledged at the end, the thrill of a holiday trip to New York and the unparalleled experience of singing on the main stage of Carnegie Hall. Bravo to all, and happy holidays!

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Mozart Mealor Martin: Music of Joy and Sadness in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Mozart Mealor Martin: Music of Joy and Sadness in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Mozart Mealor Martin: Music of Joy and Sadness
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra and Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Vance Y. George, James Jordan, and Joseph Martin, Conductors
Penelope Shumate, soprano; Krysty Swann, mezzo-soprano; Youngbae Yang, tenor; Jeremy Milner, bass-baritone
Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
February 15, 2016

 

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) continued its record of inspirational massed-choral and orchestra concerts, “changing lives through the power of performance,” as their motto states. It is truly a credit to the many individual local choral conductors who prepared these groups that came from all over the US, UK, Austria, and New Zealand, and had but a short time to work out a polished interpretation with all the other choirs, orchestra, and the “real” conductor. It is good to see that these individual conductors are given their own bow(s) after their groups have performed.

The concert was presented in inverse order of its title, hence Martin, Mealor, Mozart. A rather long group of faith- and patriotic-based material, all composed by Joseph Martin (one Irving Berlin arrangement) and conducted by him, opened the program on a suitably upbeat note. If the music wasn’t surprisingly original, it certainly was very pleasing and accessible for community choirs. This particular group of over two hundred had a surprisingly difficult time making itself heard over the full orchestrations, when singing at or below mezzo-forte. When singing by themselves however, the full volume passages were appropriately thrilling, although diction was fuzzy.

Would it be churlish to mention that these mass-choir events require a great deal of stage management, moving one group of two hundred off the risers, moving the next group on, etc. and that this stretches the times of the programs quite a bit? Perhaps this process could be streamlined. And please credit the excellent orchestra by listing its players; they play beautifully. After a very long “brief pause” listed in the program, came the stunning success of the evening: Paul Mealor’s Stabat Mater.

Let me go out on a limb here and state that when I die, if there “is” a heaven, I want it to sound like the music of Paul Mealor. I, like millions across the world, first heard his music in the form of the delicious Ubi caritas that was sung at the 2011 royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton. Mr. Mealor has a way of conveying a divine radiance with his harmonies—although firmly anchored in traditional tonality, his way with a “cluster” creates a sort of spiritual “smudge” (he even mentions incense as an aid to worship, a high Anglican tradition) that is incredibly mysterious and moving.

The Stabat Mater, a portrait of the sorrowful mother of Jesus at the foot of the cross, hits all the satisfying points one could wish, and does not remain mired only in the pain of the scene, but progresses to acceptance, hope, and faith. The work is dedicated to Mr. Mealor’s grandparents. The conductor for this work was James Jordan (disclaimer: an alumnus of one of my alma maters: Westminster Choir College). We also share many of the same mentors in choral conducting. Of course credentials are worthless unless put into practice, and wow, were they ever put into practice. His choir sang with an infinite variety of color and dynamic contrasts, razor sharp diction despite the size of the group, and great emotion. The soprano soloist, the excellent Penelope Shumate (doing double duty in the Mozart Requiem) soared above the choir with her descant, which seemed the embodiment of light. The audience, after a transcendent and respectful silence at the end, erupted into a well-deserved standing ovation. The ensemble remained on stage for the World Premiere of a short, boisterous work Jubilate Deo, also by Mr. Mealor.

After intermission, the Mozart Requiem was conducted by Vance George, with yet another choral assembly of about two hundred. Here, the size of the choir was truly a liability. George took some quite brisk tempi that are utterly justified in light of historically-informed performance practice, but that a large choir would have trouble rendering distinctly. Again, the orchestra seemed louder than the choir, quite an accomplishment. There were numerous discrepancies of ensemble, and one false start, discreetly and rapidly remedied. The four soloists did not benefit from being separated: the two men stage left, the ladies stage right. This creates an automatic deficit in the feeling for cooperation. Ms. Shumate was joined by a fabulous mezzo-soprano, new to me, Krysty Swann, whose plumy tone was natural, never forced, and whose musicality was beautiful. The men fared somewhat less well: tenor Youngbae Yang certainly sang all the notes without strain, but without obvious emotional connection; and the bass-baritone Jeremy Milner made a stereotypically wooly, dark sound, and was out of tune in his “big” moment, the first phrase of the Tuba mirum (miraculous trumpet), which was fully a half-step too high by the end, while the trombone which symbolizes this summoning miracle messed up the arpeggios underneath the singer.

I don’t wish to carp, perhaps it was an off night for Mr. Milner, or for the choir, it is hard to wait backstage through a long concert—it certainly didn’t deter the enthusiasm of the many friends and family members of these dedicated singers who were present in the audience. After all, the motto of one of the Martin pieces “E pluribus unum” (out of many, one) could be taken as the way these singers and choirs come together as well. Truly inspiring.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Verdi Requiem in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Verdi Requiem in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Verdi Requiem

Jonathan Griffith, conductor

Distinguished Concerts Orchestra; Distinguished Concerts Singers International

Penelope Shumate, soprano; Claudia Chapa, mezzo-soprano; John Pickle, tenor; Christopher Job, bass

Stern Auditorium at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY

May 24, 2015

 

The Verdi Requiem is one of sacred music’s guilty pleasures, always thrilling even though you know it’s so operatic. So much so, in fact, that it was banned from performance within the Catholic church setting until the early 1960s. Or was it the fact that it was composed by a self-proclaimed atheist? The piece was written in memory of Alessandro Manzoni, a hero of the “Risorgimento,” the mid-nineteenth century movement for Italian unification. Verdi joins Mozart and Berlioz in his relish of the terrifying aspects of death rather than offering comfort to those left behind, as we find in Brahms, Fauré, and Duruflé.

DCINY presented a superior rendition on Sunday night. Due credit must go to the conductor, Jonathan Griffith (who is also co-founder and artistic director of DCINY), who assembles these gigantic choral/orchestral pieces with choirs coming to New York from all over the US and, in this case, Denmark and England. Clearly, his vision for the piece, and his ability to convey it, are crystal clear, because he gets audible results from his assembled forces.

The choir was so large that numerous female members of the soprano and alto sections had to be located in the front balconies, creating an antiphonal effect that was not unwelcome, though it did lead to minor imprecision of ensemble that did not detract from the overall impression.

The chorus thundered when the score requested, but even more critically, they whispered in terrified awe and sang beautiful plush soft chords, with many shades and colors. Verdi has structured the work as a sort of opposition between chorus and four soloists, as was noted in the excellent program notes. He spends a lot more time on the terrifying aspects of death and its aftermath Dies Irae, which always comes back just when the more comforting portions seem to be gaining a foothold.

The four soloists were all up to the operatic demands of their parts, but special mention must be made of Claudia Chapa, a Mexican mezzo-soprano, who has the true Verdi heft and color in her powerful voice. Tenor John Pickle also sang with thrilling squillo in a true Italian style that was entirely appropriate. The bass, Christopher Job, possesses a sound that is brighter and more forward-placed than I am used to for Verdi, but created a haunting and wonderful effect with his three descending Mors. Soprano Penelope Shumate created some lovely pianissimo floaty high notes, and these were her best quality, which is no small achievement. However, in other heftier spots, she risked being overwhelmed by the orchestra; and she didn’t have the requisite raw chest tones for the concluding Libera me Domine, the one that’s down an octave in the soprano’s “vulnerable” range. She and Chapa did have some gorgeous moments when they were each singing softly an octave apart.

From the first hushed descending minor triad of the orchestra, it was clear that the freelance group that calls itself the Distinguished Concerts Orchestra was in full command of the colors this score requires. I wish they were credited in the program, so I could single out some of the solo players, including the concertmaster, and numerous wind players. Also, what Verdi Requiem would be complete without the monstrous and scary “Thwack!” of the tympani in the Dies Irae? Here, it was entirely fulfilled, with what must be one of the tympanist’s most enjoyable places in the repertoire.

Verdi’s Requiem does not have the In Paradisum section that some other Requiems do, but the audience was certainly “In Paradise” and leapt to its feet for a deserved ovation.

 

 

 


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Messiah . . . Refreshed! in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Messiah . . . Refreshed! in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Messiah . . . Refreshed!
Eugene Goossens’s and Thomas Beecham’s 1959 re-orchestration for full symphony orchestra.
Jonathan Griffith, conductor
Penelope Shumate, soprano; Holly Sorenson, mezzo-soprano; John McVeigh, tenor; Christopher Job, bass/baritone
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center, New York, NY
November 30, 2014
 

Okay purists, put down the lorgnettes and stop sniffing in disdain. Absolutely no Messiahs were harmed in the making of this Messiah. Quite the contrary, a mostly thrilling and detailed performance of this evergreen work, full of passion and commitment, took place on November 30th at Avery Fisher Hall. Messiah is the one work that overshadows absolutely everything else in Handel’s output.

Let’s get the bad jokes out of the way now: “Messiah Inflated,” “The Biggest Gainer,” “Enlarge Ye my Orchestra.” Feel better? Gigantism began creeping into the work even in Handel’s time, with the famous English choral societies often numbering in the hundreds. This was the age of absolute rulers—palaces and pomp. And no less a genius than Mozart thought fit to re-instrument it for his time and style. These practical men of music didn’t suffer from the stilting reverence of which we are often guilty. If we are going to perform this work in a hall that seats 3000, some adjustment may be permitted.

With just a few cuts introduced by Eugene Goossens, the performance clocked in at about 2 hours 40 minutes, the same as on my Christopher Hogwood ground-breaking “historically informed” recording from the 1980s. Conductor Jonathan Griffith led the massed forces with great energy and a compromise approach, including some stylish double dotting, but broader tempi to accommodate the increased instrumental sound. He also introduced some very “grand old British gentleman” ritards which were absolutely welcome. I don’t know if that was his innate musicality, or if they were specified by Goossens or Beecham. The only minor annoyance was the presence of the triangle and cymbal, neither of which added much to my enjoyment.

The “Pifa,” or Pastoral Symphony that is in Part I was absolutely magical in the pianissimo return of the theme, played by a smaller cohort with pinpoint style and hushed, awestruck beauty.

When the chorus entered for its first number “And the glory of the Lord,” the sound was absolutely thrilling. These choristers are a cosmopolitan bunch, from France, Brazil, Guatemala, Georgia, Kansas, Hong Kong, Wisconsin, New York, Australia, Tennessee, Missouri, and Germany, obviously so well prepared by their local conductors that they can travel to New York and put themselves together with Maestro Griffith and his orchestra, who brought great unity and color variety to their singing, which was never generic, and was most exciting in the full-voiced passages. Their clarity and rhythmic vitality was very good in the difficult chains of sixteenth notes.

The four soloists were also excellent, with visible involvement in their texts, crystal clear diction, and stamina. Tenor John McVeigh has a sweet lyrical voice that would sound well in front of a Baroque orchestra as well. His “Behold, and see if there be any sorrow” was a highlight of the tenor-heavy Part II.

 

Messiah...Refreshed!

Messiah…Refreshed!

 

Soprano Penelope Shumate was a real find for me, with a voice that has been described previously in New York Concert Review as “radiant,” and I can see why. The clear tones were true and expressive, one of the best “Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion” that I have ever heard live. Her “I know that my redeemer liveth” was lovely.

The mezzo-soprano, Holly Sorenson, had perhaps the hardest job being heard over the increased orchestration, no fault of hers, but an accident of the lower tessitura. Her “He was despised” was lovely and appropriately grief-stricken, but I wanted to hear the middle section and da capo (shame on Goossens for this one).

Bass-baritone Christopher Job avoided the hollow, sepulchral tones that one sometimes hears from true basses. His voice ideally suited the punishing “The trumpet shall sound,” and was every bit the match for the clarino trumpet (excellently played). However, I would have wished for a darker color on “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth,” which he did beautifully on “Behold, I tell you a mystery,” with “mystery” having its own special mysticism reflected in the voice.

Griffith found a nuance I had only heard once before (in a “historically informed” performance by Les Arts Florissants): the lightening of the voices in the chorus “His yoke is easy and his burden is light” on the final two words, perfectly realized tone painting. The Hallelujah chorus and the concluding “Worthy is the lamb that was slain” and fugal “Amen” benefited from two extra “ambush” antiphonal choirs placed in the left and right balconies of Avery Fisher Hall. The proximity of the sound to the audience only added to the grand intensity of these seminal moments.

Worthy indeed, was this Messiah.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Lust & La Femme Mystique: Carmina Burana and Music in Celebration of International Women’s Day in Review

Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Lust & La Femme Mystique: Carmina Burana and Music in Celebration of International Women’s Day in Review

Lust & La Femme Mystique: Carmina Burana and Music in Celebration of International Women’s Day
Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International
Hilary Apfelstadt, conductor; Vance George, Conductor Laureate
Penelope Shumate, soprano; Dillon McCartney; tenor; Keith Harris, baritone
Avery Fisher Hall, Lincoln Center; New York, NY
March 10, 2014
 

International Women’s Day was celebrated by Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) with a concert in Avery Fisher Hall employing four hundred sixty-nine choral singers, sixty-three instrumentalists, and three vocal soloists. The first half was a pleasing selection of contemporary pieces for and about women sung by the combined forces of ten choirs from all over the world. And what fine choirs they were! Beautiful sounds, with excellent diction, and near perfect intonation. Clearly these women and their conductors were dedicated to this music, and the music was worthy of their labors. The first piece was Guy Forbesʼ gorgeous Ave Maria. Written for a cappella women’s chorus, this piece should become a classic. It is immediately accessible without being in any way predictable or saccharine. It was followed by another lovely song praising the Virgin Mary, Eleanor Daley’s I Sing of a Maiden, also an a cappella composition. Like all the music on the first half, it was tonal but contained interesting harmonic twists and turns. For the next two songs we were transported south of the border. The Brazilian composer Eduardo Lakschevitzʼs jaunty Travessura was followed by Cancion de los Tsáchilas which is a compilation of four folk songs, cleverly arranged by Michael Sample. The energetic performances of these two works were, unfortunately marred by the loud footsteps of a very large group of audience members who incomprehensibly were allowed to enter while the music was going on. A violin and a cello joined the singers and pianist for two pieces depicting women in moments of reflection, Joan Szymkoʼs Always Coming Home and Jocelyn Hagen’s In the Lavender Stillness of Dawn. Nancy Telferʼs The Blue Eye of God employed breath sounds and whispers. Joy by John Muehleisen brought the first half to a happy conclusion. The ten choir directors are to be applauded for their fine work in preparing their choirs, and kudos to conductor Hilary Apfelstadt for pulling it all together in what must have been a short rehearsal time.

 
DCINY Carmina  Burana

DCINY Carmina Burana

 

The second half was devoted to one of the biggest crowd-pleasers in the choral repertoire, Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Once more the large chorus was the star. It was comprised of two hundred seventy-two singers from seven international choruses, none of whom sang on the first half. The biggest challenge in singing this music is learning the words, which are in Latin and an ancient form of German, and which often must be articulated in rapid fire manner. It takes hours of drill. It was obvious that these choruses and their directors had done their job well. They performed with commitment, confidence, tonal beauty and fine intonation. The large group was alternatively sensitive and powerful. The difficult men’s sextet “Si, Puer cum Puella,” written for solo voices, was wisely performed by all the men. This resolved the intonation and tessitura problems so often encountered in this piece. The women sang the lovely, tender middle section of “Floret silva nobilis” with delicacy and perfect ensemble. I was especially impressed by the splendid Brooklyn Youth Chorus. They sang as one, in perfect tune with beautiful sound. Undaunted by language difficulties, they performed by memory. How wonderful it is to hear the young people of our city demonstrate such musical accomplishment! Their conductor, Dianne Berkun, is surely one of our city’s treasures.

Unfortunately the soloists did not attain the high level set by the choruses. Baritone Keith Harris has a very beautiful voice, but often it wasn’t loud enough to cut through the orchestra. He also tended to sing flat in the soft passages. Soprano Penelope Shumate looked stunning in her strapless red gown as she sauntered provocatively across the stage. However, her high soprano voice was not ideally suited for “In Trutina.” This beautiful, simple, expressive song lies in the low register where her voice isn’t at its best. She was better suited for the high “Dulcissime,” where her tones rang out loud and clear. Before the concert began an announcement was made that the tenor soloist was sick but would nevertheless do his best. As New York City is full of singers, one would think that a healthy high tenor could have been found to serve as his replacement. Fortunately he has only one song, “Cignus ustus cantat” (“The roast swan”) He attempted to compensate for his vocal problems by hamming it up, pretending to conduct, and interacting with the chorus, When his singing voice gave out, he spoke his lines. He did manage to get out a few notes which showed what a lovely instrument is at his disposal on a better day. The forgiving audience applauded his effort.

The conductor, George Vance, held his huge forces together admirably, and the orchestra supported the singers with conviction and fine ensemble. This was a well-paced and exciting performance, which the large audience obviously loved. They leapt to their feet as soon as the lasts notes of the final “O Fortuna” had finished resounding.


The Music of Dinos Constantinides in Review

The Music of Dinos Constantinides in Review
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) presents Distinguished Concerts Artists Series: The Music of Dinos Constantinides
Louisiana State University soloists: Michael Gurt, piano, Griffin Campbell, saxophone, Brett Dietz, percussion, Penelope Shumate, soprano, Johanna Cox, oboe, Lenora Cox Leggatt, violin
Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 24. 2013

Greek-born Dinos Constantinides is the head of Composition and Music Director of the Louisiana State University. He is presently Boyd Professor, the highest academic rank at LSU.   Mr. Constantinides has composed over 250 works, including six symphonies, two operas, and music for a wide variety of instruments and voices. His writing style is all-encompassing, from the simplest of forms to the ultra-complex, and from the strictly tonal to the acerbically atonal and serial. He is especially adept in his use of Greek influences, such as Greek poetry from both ancient and modern sources, and Greek modal harmony. With the help of six exceptionally talented colleagues from Louisiana State University, his audience was privy to a broad survey of his varied style, including two world premieres, in ten works.

Pianist Michael Gurt led off the evening with the Sonata for Piano, LRC 49, a work that could be described as a journey through a post-apocalyptic world. It is not for the faint of heart, and Mr. Gurt was heroic as he wended his way through the nightmares and the desolation in a riveting performance.  Mr. Gurt was stalwart all evening in his work with colleagues, demonstrating fine and attentive playing as a collaborator.

The lyric playing of saxophonist Griffin Campbell, especially in the Four Songs of Epirus, LRC 264 (World Premiere), was also outstanding.   Oboist Johanna Cox handled all technical obstacles with apparent ease, and when her sister, violinist Lenora Cox Leggatt, a formidable talent in her own right, joined her with Mr. Gurt in Reflections V for Violin, Oboe, and Piano, LR 108, the effect was magical. It was the highlight of the evening to this listener. Brett Dietz displayed his amazing dexterity with his stick technique in the Moto Perpetuo for Marimba Alone, LRC 263 (another World Premiere) – it was a performance worthy of Paganini!  Finally, soprano Penelope Shumate closed each half with performances filled with passion, charm, and coquettishness.

There is something apt in the saying about having too much of a good thing, and I am of the opinion that it would have been judicious to have shortened the program.  Mr. Constantinides is at his best in his Greek-influenced works, and a program devoted to those works would have been most effective.

At the end, Mr. Constantinides joined his colleagues on the stage to offer them his congratulations, shaking hands with each performer. All joined together for a final bow to the appreciative audience.


Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY) in Review

“Messiah…Refreshed!”
Distinguished Concerts International New York (DCINY): Distinguished Concerts Orchestra, Distinguished Concerts Singers International, Jonathan Griffith, Music Director; Penelope Shumate, soprano; Doris Brunatti, contralto;
Jorge Garza, tenor; Liam Moran, bass.
Avery Fisher Hall; Lincoln Center, New York, NY
November 25, 2012

Written in the space of 24 days in 1741, George Frideric Handel’s Messiah is a work with a storied performance history.  Premiered in Dublin in 1742, it has been a mainstay of the repertoire since. Using a libretto from Charles Jennens, Messiah is the story of Christ’s incarnation, death, and resurrection.

Messiah is no stranger to reworking and revision. Handel himself rearranged and rewrote sections to suit his needs; selections could be added or deleted based on the talents available. Mozart produced a version in 1789 that is still in use today, although nineteenth-century critic Moritz Hauptmann caustically remarked that Mozart’s revisions were “stucco ornaments on a marble temple.”  The controversy has not abated. There have been “sing-a-long” editions and even a rock version performed and recorded. The version performed at today’s concert is generally attributed to Sir Thomas Beecham and Eugene Goossens, although Beecham’s contribution was overstated for many years by his widow.  It was not until the 1990s that Lady Beecham’s claims were refuted; the score was completely Goossens’s work.

Beecham commissioned fellow conductor and composer Goossens to re-orchestrate Messiah to utilize the full forces of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He felt that larger forces were needed to project the sound in increasingly large venues.  Beecham recorded this version in 1959; it is still available on CD today, and it continues to be controversial.  Purists who believe that Handel’s conception should remain true to the original find the Goossens version to be vulgar, while its defenders argue that the greater forces enhance the grandeur of the work.

Make no mistake; this is not your great-grandfather’s Messiah. It is brash, extroverted, and at times bombastic.  It is not Messiah – it is MESSIAH, with double the sound, new and improved, with cymbals and triangle! It is Messiah on steroids, the epitome of the saying “Go big or go home.”  This version is tailor-made for DCINY; an organization that never fails to pull out all the stops in putting on a big show.

Conductor Jonathan Griffith led the orchestra and 200-plus chorus with a sure hand. It would have been easy to lose control of these large forces, but Griffith was up to challenge of delivering the big sound without losing focus on the music itself.  The playing was excellent throughout and the exuberance of the percussionists was a special joy to see and hear. The trumpet playing in Behold, I tell you a mystery was particularly striking in its clarity and beauty of tone.  The chorus was well balanced and strong in its supporting role.

The four soloists had the biggest challenge, to sing their demanding parts while having to project enough to be heard over the large forces behind them. There were moments when each singer was in peril of being drowned out, but happily, they all overcame the dangers and delivered fine performances.  I believe each soloist became stronger and more confident as the performance progressed, as they made adjustments to project their voices.  Soprano Penelope Shumate was confident and assured; There were shepherds abiding in the field was a highlight of her performance. Contralto Doris Brunatti was compelling in her role; Behold, a virgin shall conceive was her best of several excellent solos. Tenor Jorge Garza sang his role with total involvement; one could feel the venom in the word “rebuke” in his solo, Thy rebuke hath broken his heart.  It was his He that dwelleth in heaven, though, that was the highlight of his performance to this listener. Finally, the talented Bass Liam Moran was not to be overshadowed by his fellow soloists. His solo, Why do the nations so furiously rage together?, was the high point of his outstanding singing.

One would be remiss if not making special mention of the Hallelujah chorus. It did not disappoint, delivered in a manner that could be described as over-the-top, complete with young members of the Distinguished Concerts Singers International joining in from the second tier in the audience (in what is becoming a signature feature of DCINY concerts). The audience stood spontaneously as they often do for the Hallelujah, and many could be seen singing along.  At the close, the audience roared its approval for several minutes.  The closing chorus, Worthy is the lamb that was slain, was performed with similar spirit. The excitement built to such a fever pitch that one bass in the chorus jumped in a moment early after a dramatic pause. The work was brought to a rousing close, and the audience responded with five minutes of thunderous applause, eliciting several curtain calls for the soloists and conductor Griffith. It was a well-deserved ovation to a memorable concert. Congratulations to DCINY for yet another winning performance.