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City Choir Launches With Grand 'Solomon'

Monday, November 19, 2007

There's rarely been a more surprising move than the firing last year of Robert Shafer as music director of the Washington Chorus. Despite having led the group to glory -- and a Grammy Award -- over a 35-year career, Shafer was dumped so abruptly that it led to a near-mutiny, and some 90 choristers followed him out the door. Shafer has now shaped those singers (and about 15 newcomers) into a feisty rival group called the City Choir of Washington -- which, to judge by its triumphant debut Friday night at the Schlesinger Concert Hall and Arts Center, is about to give the Washington Chorus some serious competition.

Shafer picked Handel's great oratorio "Solomon" for the launch, and it was an inspired move. It's not much as a story, but the music is astoundingly rich, full of complex choral polyphony (most of it in eight parts), fugues and double fugues, delicate arias, love duets, intricate motets -- with a chorus divided into two sections. Shafer drew a virtuosic performance from the ensemble -- detailed and powerful, with superb balance and control over his forces.

In fact, the chorus was really the star of the evening. Among the soloists, soprano Amanda Gosier was the standout, propelling the drama with a lovely voice and a subtle, eloquent sense of theater.

Battling a cold, Darryl Taylor started out beautifully, but his fine countertenor was fading badly by the end of the evening. The promising young soprano Angeli Ferrette, meanwhile, brought a nice electric edge to the baby-chopping role of Second Harlot, while tenor Ole Hass soldiered through what must have been an off night; it happens.

On the whole, though, it was an impressive debut. The City Choir's next performance is Dec. 21 in the same venue, and -- coincidentally or not -- the Washington Chorus will be performing the same night at Strathmore. Let it begin.

-- Stephen Brookes

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