Heartfelt Veterans Day Salute From the Washington Chorus
Veterans Day songs of battle mixed with entreaties for peace as the Washington Chorus commemorated the holiday with Vaughan Williams's "Dona Nobis Pacem" and Haydn's "Mass in Time of War" Sunday afternoon at the Kennedy Center.
The former provided a landscape of war through parts of Walt Whitman's "Drum Taps," John Bright's "Angel of Death" speech, the Bible and the Latin Mass. Ominous drumbeats, dirges and shifting tonalities created a foreboding, uncertain atmosphere, well suited to Whitman's searing texts. The chorus sang with a clear sound, clean diction and a faint halo of vibrato that added shimmer without distorting pitch. Baritone Stephen Salters sang poignantly of kissing the lips of a dead enemy soldier. A beacon of light in this dark work, soprano Joanna Mongiardo's pure, well-rounded voice conveyed both innocence and urgency as she pleaded for peace.
The Haydn work took an entirely different tenor, combining the orderly fervor of war with effusive coloratura praise of God and C-major simplicity. Guest conductor Julian Wachner led a sharp account and brought out grave details -- a strong, militant call of "receive our prayer" and a weighty though upbeat ending. The orchestra's tone was consistently brilliant, and a simple, songlike cello duet with Salters was especially moving.
Soloists Mongiardo, Laura Vlasak Nolen and William Hite joined Salters to form a fresh-voiced, expressive quartet; Vlasak Nolen's rich, creamy sound was particularly pleasing. By the end of the second work, the chorus lagged in both energy and intonation, but by and large, the performance was a commendable and touching memorial.
-- Ronni Reich