The Inez L. Booth Choral Society from Oakwood College in Huntsville, Ala., performed in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall yesterday afternoon under its conductor John Dennison. The program's focus was Rossini's "Stabat Mater," for which the singers were joined by the New England Youth Ensemble orchestra and a quartet of vocal soloists who provided a major portion of the afternoon's high points.
Rossini wrote relatively few sacred works, and this one does little to make a person regret that; nonetheless, the "Stabat Mater" contains wonderful solo material and some dramatic moments for orchestra and chorus as well. The choral sound was rich and powerful, and it also reached moments of hushed beauty and intensity that demonstrated the high quality of training and musical discipline these students are receiving. Of the many thrilling moments supplied by the four soloists, the sensitive "Fac, ut portem" by mezzo-soprano Valerie Eichelberger and the impassioned "Inflammatus et accensus" by soprano Lynda Elliot deserve special mention.
The first half of the concert was a potpourri. The chorus sang three spirituals with finesse and style, and the orchestra likewise performed three works: one movement from Hindemith's "Morgenmusik" for brass, Barber's Adagio for Strings and Beethoven's "Egmont" Overture. The Barber was led only by the group's concertmaster, Virginia-Gene Rittenhouse, and essential ensemble precision was largely absent. Even when Dennison conducted the Beethoven overture, there were severe problems of precision, balance and intonation. This is a talented group of young players who deserve to be heard under better circumstances.