Paul Hill's Washington Singers, the 24-member chamber choir that is an offshoot of the chorale also bearing Hill's name, finally gave its Valentine's Day program last night at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater. In February, the event fell victim to inclement weather.
Both program and performance were stylish and appealing, ranging from the Washington premiere of song settings of Catullus by the distinguished American composer Dominick Argento to a beautifully understated version of Kern and Hammerstein's "All the Things You Are."
In Argento's songs, called "I Hate and I Love," he dipped into that same lode of lusty Latin verse as Carl Orff once did, translating them loosely into English, and adding some lines where the singers repeatedly turn against the poet in amatory frustration: "Wretched Catullus, put an end to this madness!" But if Argento shares this material with Orff's Carmina, his style is quite different--more lyric, and at times almost conversational. The harmony is mostly diatonic, with astringency. Two percussionists accompany, and enhance a sense of dramatic rise and fall. The work comes in eight parts and forms a little song cycle. A charming piece.
The group sang another rarity, Daniel Pinkham's "Wedding Cantata," settings of four songs drawn from the biblical "Song of Songs." A pleasant, modest lyric work, unswervingly diatonic.
There were also gracefully done excerpts from Act 2 of Strauss' "Die Fledermaus." Members of the chorus stepped on and off center stage in the solo parts. Several were good, and in Adele's song, soprano Lea Joergensen was quite delectable.
There were four English madrigals at the beginning, with an especially fine performance of Dowland's "Down in the Valley."
Hill, who conducted, has fashioned a well-disciplined ensemble with delightfully crisp, transparent vocal textures and good enunciation.