Washington Chorus performs work of British composer Tarik O’Regan to admirable effect

May 9, 2014

When Julian Wachner took over the Washington Chorus, he introduced more contemporary music into the ensemble’s often staid repertoire. This included establishing a series called “New Music for a New Age,” a portrait of a living choral composer in both performance and conversation. The latest of these concerts, on Thursday night at the Church of the Epiphany, was devoted to the music of Tarik O’Regan.

The British composer’s champions include big names in the choral world, like The Sixteen, Conspirare, and choirs led by Paul Hillier, who have all made recordings available from Harmonia Mundi and other labels. What I have heard, including in this concert, has much to justify recommending it, including a contrapuntal complexity derived from his embrace of historical music and a refined taste for texts. At the same time, much of his music falls into a few recurring styles: meditative (holy) minimalism (heard here in “I Had No Time to Hate”), tonal or modal Renaissance textures or chantlike writing (“Now Fatal Change”), Andrew Lloyd Webber-like rock-infused style (“The Ecstasies Above”), and a Celtic folksiness reminiscent of James MacMillan (“Had I Not Seen the Sun”).

It is a tall order to rehearse an extensive, mostly volunteer chorus to sing this kind of music, and the results were generally successful. Much of the heavy lifting was entrusted to soloists, to admirable effect, especially the richness of mezzo-soprano Kirsten Sollek in “Now Fatal Change.” The Novus NY String Quartet accompanied nicely in “The Ecstasies Above,” correcting the chorus’s sagging intonation. It was a disappointment to hear three movements of Guillaume de Machaut’s “Messe de Nostre Dame,” on which O’Regan’s multi-texted “Scattered Rhymes” is based, played in an oozing style on string quartet, instead of by one of the quartets of solo voices otherwise underused.

Downey is a freelance writer.

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