In this Olympics season, I found another winning team, well-rehearsed singers with impressive depth and plenty of heart, at the Annapolis Chorale's opening pops concert Saturday.
Like any winning coach, musical director J. Ernest Green put his team through a rigorous routine of musical challenges from Cole Porter of the 1930s to 1970s Motown - music that required great versatility.
Most important, the director made clear that this would be an informal, spontaneous evening to enjoy at Maryland Hall.
More highs than lows
Green began the evening with a "Les Miserables Medley," leading the 150-voice chorus, accompanied by pianist Carolene Winter, Marty Morrison on drums and John Pineda on bass.
Although I heard some minor misses, I heard more than enough highs to compensate. The chorale gave fullness and dramatic sweep to the music with a moving "Bring Him Home" followed by an inspired "Do You Hear the People Sing?" and the solo work from chorus members was outstanding.
The group's versatility was well showcased in the Americana of Meredith Willson's "The Music Man," including a rousing rendition of "76 Trombones" cleverly following "Goodnight, My Someone," the same tune set to a different tempo.
This was an evening to enjoy the distinctive sound and versatility of the Annapolis Chorale and to welcome guest artists invited to celebrate the new season. Saturday's guests covered a wide spectrum, from classical to jazz and Motown and a combination of all three.
First to appear was spectacular mezzo-soprano Elizabeth Saunders, who enchanted the audience with two classics, "Make Believe" and "You Are Love" from Jerome Kern's "Showboat."
Despite a shortened final note, I've seldom heard "You Are Love" sung more beautifully or with more feeling. Saunders joined the chorale in "The Music Man" with a lovely "Till There Was You" solo.
Later, jazz vocalist Sue Matthews added excitement with her velvet rendition of "You Make Me Feel Like a Natural Woman." The Annapolis Chorale provided some fine backup singing for Matthews.
Warm and mellow-voiced Tony Spencer delivered a memorable "My Cherie Amour" followed by a terrific "My Girl" sung to his 3-year old grandchild. Again, chorale members offered strong, rhythmic backup.
Another favorite guest artist, pianist Stef Scaggiari, was a superb Motown and jazz accompanist for Matthews and Spencer. Scaggiari also offered a dazzling improvisational solo of "I've Grown Accustomed to Her Face" that gave new dimensions to "My Fair Lady" composer Frederick Loewe's music.
In addition to superb musicality and commanding stage presence, Scaggiari has an easy rapport with Green and conveys a sense of fun that is contagious.
In "Stormy Weather" and "Every Time We Say Goodbye," I admired the chorus' way of clearly enunciating so that the lyric became fully appreciated poetry, deeply felt and expressed. This season a greater fullness has been added to the group's bright sound, perhaps a result of the increased number of male voices.
A spontaneity and freshness pervaded the evening. Green seemed to have even more fun than usual, maybe the result of his taking on yet another assignment. He is also musical director of Falls Church Chamber Orchestra, and he seems to thrive on what might overwhelm other musicians.
Like previous opening concerts, this one continued with dancing downstairs afterward. The chorale promises an exciting season ahead with a wide repertoire. For those who appreciate live dynamics and spontaneity, subscriptions are available. Information: 410-263-1906.