Ralph Vaughan Williams is still a composer who is underappreciated despite an output that runs from songs to symphonies and everything in between. Sunday evening, the Baltimore Choral Arts Society gave us a rare opportunity to hear "Flos Campi," one of the composer's masterworks.
"Flos Campi" is a haunting suite for viola, chorus and orchestra. The viola part is not really a virtuoso vehicle, but it does require great sensitivity and nuance, and violist Peter Minkler was wonderfully eloquent.
The orchestral support was marvelous. Vaughan Williams's music gave very delicate and exposed solos to his woodwinds. Especially fine were oboist Jane Marvine and flutist Emily Skala.
The wordless chorus that weaves in and out of the orchestral music was well-prepared but simply too big for the small orchestra. Music Director Tom Hall needed to pare down this full chorus. The singers did produce marvelous pianissimos, but anything over mezzo forte just swamped the orchestral detail.
The second half of the concert consisted of an overblown cantata by Norman Scribner called "The Nativity."
Coming after the beguiling harmonic language of Vaughan Williams, Scribner's "Nativity" sounded baby simple.
Hall and his chorus clearly love this work and took no prisoners. The choral fireworks started with the opening "Come we shepherds" and kept up through the last movement. Still, the compositional style suffers from a lack of dissonance.
Two vocal soloists are required, and they were generally excellent. Mezzo-soprano Lori Hultgren has a rich voice, and her performance was at times quite moving, notably in the third movement, "Poor World." Sometimes her vibrato got the better of her. Tenor Charles Reid was equally fine and made the most of a very demanding role.