When Live Arts Maryland music director J. Ernest Green conducted the season-closing "Light & Life" classical concert in April, it was a performance that seemed impossible to surpass. Yet the classical season opener, the "Dona Nobis Pacem" concert performed Nov. 8 and 9 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, managed to rival it.
Once again, Green and the 160 voices of the Annapolis Chorale, accompanied by the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra, produced a bright sound to enthrall near-capacity audiences.
The chorale sang of peace and tranquillity in a mix of familiar and new music. The mood throughout was melodically serene, with major drama occurring in Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms."
The tone of the performance was set with the opening piece, Gabriel Faure's "Requiem" in D minor, which differs from the usual Roman Catholic Mass for the Dead in its absence of a frightening "Dies Irae."
The result was a serene mood throughout. The work softly drew listeners in as female voices in pianissimo were echoed by male voices with string accompaniment, progressing to an exultant ending.
Other segments extended the expression of faith and tranquillity, with soloists baritone Nathan Wyatt and tenor David Merrill adding their voices. Soprano Caitlin Vincent sang a lovely "Pie Jesu," resembling a lullaby that grows in spellbinding intensity.
The Annapolis Chamber Orchestra extended the mood with two instrumental works: Johann Sebastian Bach's "Air" from Suite No. 3 in D major and Tomaso Albinoni's Adagio in G minor, a familiar romantic work that sounded more 20th century than 18th.
Green again displayed his programming skills by recognizing how well contemporary Latvian composer Peteris Vasks' haunting "Pater Noster" would combine with two of his favorite works for chorus and orchestra — Faure's "Requiem" and Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms." Usually described as a minimalist, "Pater Noster" seemed distinctly contemporary in its reverence and harmony.
Green saved the best for last in "Chichester Psalms," the masterful 20th-century hymn melding American music set to Psalms in Hebrew. It is indeed music that sings to the souls. Evoking the high drama of the text, the chorus and orchestra summoned the audience to prayer in Psalm 108, "I will awake the dawn," and in Psalm 100, "Make a joyful noise Unto the Lord all ye lands."
Crashing cymbals and timpani seemed to rumble from the depths of the earth, and became highly rhythmic with joyous female voices contrasting with agitated male voices. At both Maryland Hall performances, countertenor Chris Dudley sang Psalm 23 magnificently, presenting the word "Adonai" as a sound of sublime adoration.
Next on the schedule for Green's Annapolis Chorale and Chamber Orchestra is "A Celebration of Christmas" concert, scheduled for 8 p.m. Dec. 13 at Maryland Hall, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. The program will include such beloved carols as "O Holy Night" and "Joy to the World," as well as audience favorites "White Christmas" and "Sleigh Ride."
"We're lucky to have accomplished guests violinist Jenny Oaks Baker and Celtic Woman vocalist Alex Sharpe to add another layer of holiday music, to be performed with the chorale and others in solo from their own holiday repertoire," Green said. "We're thrilled to have a Grammy nominee with us, and a member of Celtic Woman."
Chorale Christmas Celebration tickets are $45, plus a $3 Maryland Hall service charge, and are on sale now at the Maryland Hall box office and online at liveartsmaryland.org.
In addition, weekend performances of "Messiah" at St. Anne's Church, 199 Duke of Gloucester St, Annapolis, are scheduled for 8 p.m. on Dec. 20-21 and 3 p.m Dec. 22. Tickets are on sale at liveartsmaryland.org and are $37 for adults, $12 for student tickets in advance (however, student "rush" tickets can be obtained for free at the performance).
"Messiah" performances will feature guest soloist Metropolitan Opera's baritone Christian Zaremba, as well as soloists soprano Ashley Thouret, mezzo Catrin Davies and tenor Frederic Rey.