At the Terrace Theater Saturday night, Paul Hill's Washington Singers delved into the world of the contemporary American choral composer. Presenting three Washington premieres (all of the works were written in the last decade save the selections by Jerome Kern and George Gershwin), the group successfully explored the moods and techniques of pieces by Vincent Persichetti, Ned Rorem, William Schuman, Alice Parker Pyle and Dale Jergenson. But if the program can be considered any sort of trend indicator, one might conclude that the current composers share the same musical goals.
None of the music was too stringent or too sweet, too lavish or too minimalist. Persichetti's Cantata No. 6, "Flower Songs," contained the most arid writing of the evening. The ensemble's diction was impeccable, as it was throughout the program. A slight wobble in the sopranos' intonation was overcome by the work's conclusion. "Give All to Love" by Rorem, perhaps America's most successful art song proponent, featured a two-part chorus and a two-note ostinato piano accompaniment. Hill made the limpid texture sound luminous within the economical structure.
Two well-crafted pieces with novelty texts, Schuman's "Esses" (every word in the set begins with an "S") and Jergenson's "Mother Goose" Suite (one piece scatters the singers around the hall as they imitate bells) received polished readings that emphasized sharp pristine phrasing and refined humor. The compelling "There and Back Again" by Alice Parker Pyle, well known for her hymn and folk song arrangements, was approached with expert ensemble skills and handsome vocal blending.
In a different vein, the closing Kern and Gershwin works highlighted the Washington Singers' great energy, smooth flow and entirely confident musicality.