Concert review: Washington Master Chorale, featuring ‘The Earth and I’

December 19, 2011

There’s no doubt that the Washington Master Chorale, founded two years ago by conductor Thomas Colohan, has added yet another fine group to Washington’s long-acclaimed choral scene. The chorus’s more than 60 voices sing as one coherent ensemble with near-perfect diction, a stable sense of pitch, an intelligent grasp of the varying emotions of each work, and solid accord between singers and director.

Aided by optimum acoustics, the chorus performed a first-rate Christmas-oriented program at Bethesda’s Bradley Hills Presbyterian Church on Sunday.

The audience — a full house — was treated to a pleasant series of nearly 20 seasonally appropriate carols and anthems. Listeners applauded after each selection, which broke the flow of the music and was time-consuming.

The afternoon centered on the premiere of Lori Laitman’s “The Earth and I,” a first-time commission by the chorus. An unaccompanied setting of three poems by Emily Dickinson, the cycle generally adheres to the traditional language of 20th-century choral writing. But it has some lively interruptions of texture with interchanging contrapuntal and repetitive ostinato devices that emphasize Dickinson’s power-packed imagery.

The chorus clearly conveyed the mystical mood of Gustav Holst’s well-known hymn “Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence” and, in sharp contrast, the jubilant tang of two samples from Richard Rodney Bennett’s “Five Carols.” Cantor Kyle Burke’s fervent voice in Max Janowski’s “Sim Shalom” was a fitting close to the afternoon.


Lori Laitman (Christian Steiner)

Porter is a freelance writer.

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