Falmouth Chorale

April 3, 2008

The Falmouth Chorale is planning a casual, family-friendly concert called “Spring Sing” on May 10, which will include the Greater Falmouth Mostly All-Male Men’s Chorus, and a community singalong. The program will include selected Brahms’ Gypsy Songs, a spiritual, and Begin the Beguine. The two choirs, both directed by John Yankee, will sing La Habanera from Carmen and a medley from Die Fledermaus.

The Chorale is also welcoming new members, including those who want to try out . Rehearsals for this event begin Tuesday, April 8, at 6:30 PM at the John Wesley United Methodist Church, at the corner of Jones and Gifford Streets. There is a $15 participation fee, which includes music.

Following is my recent review of the Falmouth Chorale:

Chorale’s ‘Te Deum’ A Glorious Finale

John Yankee directed the Falmouth Chorale and Orchestra in an exhilarating performance of Fauré’s “Requiem” and Dvorak’s “Te Deum” this past weekend at St. Patrick’s Church on Main Street in Falmouth, and he seemed just as pleased and awed with the magnificence of the performance as the audience was. The chorale and the orchestra complemented each other well, bringing out the best in each other.

As Robert Wyatt pointed out in his informative and animated pre-concert lecture, Mr. Yankee creatively chose to pair two very different pieces of music written within a few years of each other by two composers who were contemporaries of each other, and who rose to celebrity at about the same time, in their late 30s. The pieces complement each other: Fauré’s calmly beautiful celebration of death, and Dvorak’s more spirited interpretation of an early Christian hymn of praise, “Te Deum Laudamus.” Also on the program was the wonderfully festive “Slavonic Dance Op. 46, No. 4 in F major.”

Gabriel Fauré did not write his “Requiem in D minor,” one of his best-known compositions, for anyone in particular. He is quoted as saying he composed it “for nothing…for fun, if I may be permitted to say so.” He saw death as a “happy deliverance, an aspiration toward the happiness above, rather than as a painful experience,” and the “Requiem” reflects this peaceful, serene mood.

Originally composed in 1887-1888, the piece was not initially well received, and Fauré revised it, adding two movements that had traditionally been spoken parts at a funeral and increased the orchestral instrumentation twice by 1890. The Falmouth Chorale performed one of the early revisions of the work, with a limited range of instrumentation, contributing to the ethereal beauty of the performance and evoking a feeling of tranquility, the quiet passion of chorus supported by the deep resonant sound of the low strings.

This version of the “Requiem” included seven movements, the most famous of which is the soprano aria, “Pie Jesu.” Mr. Yankee’s decision to have the aria sung by a boy soprano was an excellent one. Benjamin Young, a Lakeville seventh grader, sang it angelically, with a delicate, vulnerable quality, emphasizing its simplicity and pureness.

Philip Lima sang the baritone solo, with full, rich, and dramatic tone in the “Offertorium” and in the “Libera Me,” his voice filling the church over the pizzicato strings, and the horns adding drama and strength to the chorus. This was Mr. Lima’s first performance with the Falmouth Chorale, and it was a wonderful introduction to his substantial talents as a singer.

After intermission, the orchestra returned with Antonin Dvorak’s “Slavonic Dance, Op. 46, No. 4 in F major,” a delightful waltz-like piece, both graceful and exuberant. Dvorak composed his Slavonic dances in response to Johannes Brahms’s suggestion that he create a set of Czech dances similar in spirit to Brahms’s own Hungarian dances. Dvorak used Brahms’s dances as a model and incorporated characteristic Czech rhythms in his dances, but made up his own melodies to express both the essence of the Czech character and his own feelings. The dances, originally written for piano and later orchestrated, brought Dvorak to prominence.

The final piece on the program, Dvorak ‘s “Te Deum,” was the pièce de résistance of the evening. Written in 1892, to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the discovery of America by Christopher Columbus, the piece was first performed in New York in October of that year (on the same program was Dvorak’s Slavonic Dance No. 4) with a chorus of 250 singers, conducted by Dvorak himself. The 65 members of the Falmouth Chorale brought the “Te Deum” to life in glorious style, aided by a strong performance by the 36-member orchestra, and outstanding solos by Mr. Lima and soprano Martha Evans, who is well-known to Falmouth Chorale and Cape Cod Opera audiences for the extraordinary range and power of her voice.

The four movements of Dvorak’s “Te Deum” are written in symphonic form, beginning with a fast movement, followed by a slow one, then a scherzo-like movement, and ending with an energetic finale. Most of the piece is sung and played at full volume and with celebratory spirit. Ms. Evans’s solos were exquisite, the woodwinds responding to her phrases nicely. Mr. Lima was also excellent, his solos supported by trombones and, later, by low strings and woodwinds. That followed by a duet was extraordinary, and the audience responded enthusiastically with a much-deserved standing ovation for all performers.

The program notes were well prepared, providing not only background material on the music and the performers, but also the words, in both Latin and English, to both the “Requiem” and the “Te Deum.” It was also good to see that Frederick Johnson, the former director of the Falmouth Chorale, has been honored with a new $1,000 Falmouth Chorale scholarship named after him.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s