Admired for his prodigious programming skills, Annapolis Chorale and Chamber Orchestra music director J. Ernest Green ratcheted these talents up several notches for the "Musical Fireworks" classical concert recently.
At Green's pre-concert lecture, he said the program might be "over the top in abundance of big choral sounds," which included 19th-century Czech composer Anton Dvorak's celebratory Latin hymn, contemporary English composer John Rutter's "Gloria" and two major grand opera choruses.
There was also Handel's suite of orchestral music composed in honor of King George II of England.
To quote the late pianist-showman Liberace, "Too much of a good thing is wonderful."
The program included Dvorak's "Te Deum," followed by another "Te Deum" from Puccini's opera "Tosca" sung by baritone and chorus. Another featured operatic selection was from Pietro Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana," and included "Regina Coeli" and "Inneggiamo al Signor."
Rutter's masterwork, "Gloria," closed the program.
A rousing opening of Handel's orchestral "Music for the Royal Fireworks" elegantly welcomed the audience at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. Next was Dvorak's "Te Deum," which began dramatically with agitated drum beats soon joined by other instruments playing at an ever-quickening tempo.
The 175-voice chorus entered to add another texture, building tension in creating choral exclamations that resembled joyous vocal scales. When in the opening section soloist Fatinah Tilfah sang "Sanctus, Sanctus," her soprano floated above the supporting rhythmic choristers to provide a shining melody. Baritone Shouvik Mondle brought sonorous tones to "Gloria" as the chorus supplied a lovely melody.
An exultant "Vivace," with fine orchestral support, was beautifully sung by the chorus. Soprano Tilfah offered a gleaming solo, followed by Mondle's passage, before the chorus joined in for a sublime ending.
Also reverential, the great processional hymn "Te Deum" from "Tosca" is sung by a choir as evil police chief Scarpia plots his strategy to win Tosca away from painter Cavaradossi. Opening with Scarpia's sly "Va, Tosca" ("Go, Tosca") before the choir sings to praise God, Scarpia refines his game plan juxtaposed against the chorus, until the shocking climax when, filled with desire, Scarpia utters, "Tosca, you make me forget God!" to end the anthem.
This segment was followed by the favorite orchestral suite "Intermezzo" from Mascagni's "Cavalleria Rusticana," which preceded another exultant operatic hymn, "Regina Coeli," sung as an Easter hymn against the plight of another soloist - the abandoned and pregnant Santuzza. This Sicilian tale of love and jealousy on Easter Sunday was well realized by the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra and the Annapolis Chorale divided into two groups, one on stage and another singing from the rear balcony. The staging heightened the musical impact with soprano Tilfah as Santuzza rising above the two choruses to add poignant drama.
The program ended with Rutter's "Gloria" - an ambitious choral symphony that premiered at Rutter's first visit to the United States in 1974. The composer described this work as "analogous to a symphony with three movements - allegro, andante and vivace e rimico, or fast, slow, fast and exalted, devotional and jubilant by turns."
As performed by the ensemble with soloists Tilfah, Jill Woodward and Laurie Hays, this work became "a joyful noise unto the Lord" in its spiritual reverence and wonderful integration of orchestra and chorus. It opened with a great orchestral fanfare followed by the chorus singing "Gloria in excelsis," with the orchestra supporting and building the intensity to create a majestic grandeur in the first movement. The Gregorian chant-inspired second movement began softly with an intriguing instrumental melody followed by a male chorus singing "Domine Deus" before female voices reverently sang "Domine Deus Jesu Christe." This was followed by a sublime passage by Tilfah joined by Woodward and Hays singing "Misere nobis."
The jubilant final section moved from a lively instrumental opening with male voices echoing female in "Gloria, tu soles dominum" in a quickening tempo to reach a joyous peak and culminating in an ecstatic chorus of repeated Amens to conclude the magnificent contemporary work.
The Annapolis Chorale and the Annapolis Chamber Orchestra will perform two Celebration of Christmas concerts that will feature soloists and special guests at 7:30 p.m. Dec. 10 and 8 p.m. Dec. 11 at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. The Annapolis Chorale Chamber Chorus will stage three performances of Handel's "Messiah" at 8 p.m. Dec. 18 and 19 and 3 p.m. Dec. 20 at St. Anne's Episcopal Church. For tickets, call 410-263-1906 or go to liveartsmaryland.org.