It’s been a pleasure to watch Gretchen Kuhrmann’s 90-voice Choralis and its outreach program develop over the years. It now includes a chamber-size group called “Echos” (pronounced ee-kos), selected from the larger chorus, and three youth choirs of children from the second through 10th grades, 80 kids in all. And all of them performed in the program of American music that Choralis brought to Alexandria’s Schlesinger Concert Hall on Saturday. One dividend of this outreach was the number of young brothers and sisters that dotted the audience (and seemed enthralled by it all).
The first half of the program bounced from American highlight to highlight in roughly chronological order. There was a taste of William Billings (his “David’s Lamentation,” well sung by Echos, led by assistant conductor Bill Podolski) and several pieces by Aaron Copland: The youngest children danced through his “I Bought Me a Cat,” the middle group navigated expertly through the tricky rhythms of “Ching-a-Ring Chaw,” and the oldest kids drew out the lovely long lines of his “At the River.” Samuel Barber was represented by “The Crucifixion” from his “Hermit Songs,” sung intelligently but with a distractingly broad vibrato by soprano Marlissa Hudson, and by two of his three “Reincarnations.” These are sophisticated pieces that demand rhythmic clarity and careful attention to balance. Most of this was handled well, but the readings could have used sharper sforzandos and softer pianissimos. There was Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia,” almost obligatory for an American retrospective, sung here with a mixture of serenity and urgency that reminded us again why the piece is such a favorite, and, of course, an energetic reading of the “Sanctus” from Leonard Bernstein’s “Mass.”
The chorus’s greatest challenge, and one it met with power and distinction, was its performance of “The Un-Covered Wagon” by Native American composer Brent Michael Davids. This is a piece that requires a whole arsenal of whoops and hisses, clusters of chords and cross-rhythms that the chorus handled with assurance.
The second half was devoted to spirituals and gospel and had the audience clapping along. Robert Holloway, whose ringing baritone has a real ping to it, gave an intense account of “O, What a Beautiful City,” and a new lush arrangement of “Steal Away” by local composer Diedre Robinson held the audience spellbound.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.