Composer-pianist Simpson shines at St. Paul's Lutheran Church
On paper, it looks as if composer/educator/pianist Andrew Earle Simpson has got fingers in an awful lot of pies. Music for silent films is his specialty, but he also collaborates with visual artists and particularly with animators. He has written chamber music, concerti and theater pieces, teaches at Catholic University and is the composer-in-residence with the Cantate Chamber Singers.
Two of his choral pieces were performed at Sunday's Cantate Chamber Singers and Maryland State Boychoir concert at St. Paul's Lutheran Church - the oratorio "A Crown of Stars," which the CCS commissioned and first performed in its premiere, in 2006, and a short motet, "Sing, O Daughter of Zion," premiered here by the boychoir. On this evidence, it's clear that Simpson's talents may be eclectic, but they are certainly not superficial.
"A Crown of Stars" is a wedding oratorio in three parts with splendid texts from sources that run the gamut from Sappho, the Rig Veda and the Song of Solomon to Appalachian hymns. Simpson's idioms include jazz, chant and oriental influences and - except when he builds to a strangely muddy climax as the chorus of adults, boys, and the soprano and tenor soloists exult over the wedding - his textures are clean, rhythmically exciting and colorful. Simpson has scored the piece economically, calling for only 12 instruments and(ensuring that the piece isn't too expensive to perform from time to time) using them masterfully.
The soloists were soprano Lisa Edwards-Burrs, who projected a light and appealing sound, and Joseph Dietrich, a tenor with a big, smooth, agile voice and musical common sense to match. The CCS's conductor and longtime music director, Gisele Becker, led the proceedings with a sure hand, and her singers responded confidently and with crisp ensemble. The text was hard to make out, but some of that was due to the vagaries of church acoustics.
The whole first half of the concert belonged to the boychoir, which, under the direction of Stephen Holmes, sang a mix of Renaissance and 20th-century motets, some glees and spirituals, all with admirable blend and diction and mostly with accuracy and good intonation. This is a remarkably balanced group, and its ability to concentrate through a long afternoon was testimony to good training.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.