Choral Arts Society opens 29th year on a high note

The Baltimore Choral Arts Society began its 29th season with an impressive program of works by Handel and Schubert at Goucher's Kraushaar Auditorium Sunday afternoon. Both are considered early works, but when you are dealing with the level of divine inspiration of two gods of music, no apologies are necessary.

Before detailing the performance, the tone of the Choral Arts programs must be commended. Tom Hall is a superb conductor, with clear and economical gestures. And his program notes are the kind Leonard Bernstein would love. He is also the Baltimore equivalent to Garrison Keillor, with his warm, homespun remarks and jokes. It is this kind of approach that demystifies classical music.


The opening work was the very demanding "Dixit Dominus" of Handel. It was written when the composer was only 22, but this young man was already near the height of his powers.

The eight-movement work received a dedicated presentation. Soloist Julianne Baird sang the difficult melismas with ease, and her voice was wonderful regardless of the register. The other soloists -- Pamela Green, Glenn Helsey and Stephen Scheinberg -- may not be on Ms. Baird's artistic plane, but they gave vital and confident performances all afternoon.


The chamber chorus was a little insecure, but, considering the ferocity of the music, the occasional tuning and ensemble difficulties can be ignored.

The program concluded with an angelic realization of the sublime Schubert "Mass in G Major." This work was composed in 1815. It is roughly contemporary with the "Symphony No. 3," but it is a much more profound and forward-looking score.

The highlight of the day was the great Credo. The influence of Bach was given prominence by Mr. Hall. His reading showed that this is an early ancestor to the great slow movements of the late symphonies, sonatas and quartets.

The chorus was much more assured in the Schubert than in the Handel, probably due to the principle of safety in numbers, and the fact the Schubert is just not as hectic as the Handel.

The Benedictus was very tender with the wonderful section that moves from solo soprano to duo and finally trio. The final Agnus Dei was given a Mozartian radiance by the large chorus, and the Mass ended in hushed, peaceful silence.

The Baltimore Choral Arts Society concerts are like large family reunions. When it is such a warm and talented family it shows the finest thing about hometown ensembles. They give their best and maintain a high level of artistic quality.

A prime example was the care used in differentiating the diction in the two works -- showing how the Latin of Handel in 1707 was markedly different from the Schubert of 1815. The combination of Mr. Hall's leadership and the society's excellence and enthusiasm point to a highly successful 1994-95 season.