It’s way too early to tell how the Baltimore Choral Arts Society’s next era will turn out with Anthony Blake Clark as helmsman. But, based on first impressions Saturday night at Kraushaar Auditorium, the new music director is off to a promising start.
Clark’s musicality was readily apparent in a season-opening program that spanned several centuries, and he seemed to have no trouble getting an expressive response from the ensemble. (Like predecessor Tom Hall, who honed that ensemble for 25 years, Clark also revealed a fondness for talking to the audience; I hope he gets smoother— and shorter — at it.)
The concert had a not-quite-settled feeling, especially during a segment aimed at focusing attention on the plight of refugees and other oppressed peoples. Periodic raggedness in the orchestra didn’t help matters. Still, there were rewards.
Randall Thompson’s “The Last Words of David” received a taut account to start the program. Clark had the color and spark in Handel’s “Dixit Dominus” and Haydn’s “Te Deum” emerging vividly; the chorus articulated contrapuntal lines on those works with admirable finesse. Soprano soloists Nola Richardson and Julie Bosworth offered bright, well-focused tone and supple phrasing in the Handel work.
During the refugree-related portion of the evening, Robert Ross’ “Song of Exile,” with its recurring refrain from the spiritual “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child,” was a highlight. The chorus sang it with considerable warmth, as did mezzo soloist Patricia Hengen. (In an earlier version of this post I misidentified the soloist. Apologies.)
Olivier Messiaen’s “Chant des Deportes” (“Song of the Deported”) made an especially inspired choice to support the program theme and received a potent performance. Carly Simon’s Academy Award-winner “Let the River Run,” with a text interpreted by some as welcoming immigrants, also hit the spot.
Bach’s cantata BWV 14, dealing with persecution and salvation, sounded a couple rehearsals shy of finesse, vocally and orchestrally (Andrew Balio’s trumpet solos were, however, assured).
One problem with the whole concert — insufficient lighting in the hall to read the texts easily. Why bother printing them in the program book? I’ve preached this same sermon for years, directed at any number of organizations, and I’ll keep on preaching it. I’m stubborn that way.