The Paul Hill Chorale, minus women, was its usual magnificent self in concert at the National Presbyterian Church Saturday evening; the Georgetown Symphony Orchestra was remarkably assured; but Linn Maxwell stole the show with a masterful performance of Brahms' "Alto Rhapsody" and Ravel's "She'he'razade."
Maxwell was in full control throughout, her rich contralto capturing the despairing, yearning emotions in Brahms' setting of Goethe's poem. The basses set the stage for her with a darkly brooding melody in a purely Brahmsian adagio. Maxwell's glowing voice, with a rich vibrato, took it from there, displaying impressive technical command that always served Brahms' expressive demands. A glimmer of hope breaks through the gloom in the end, as Maxwell is joined by the chorus and a harplike pizzicato cello part.
"She'he'razade," a fantasy glimpse of Asia, is a roller-coaster ride of exotic tonal colors, its lush orchestration holding the seeds of inspiration that came to full fruition in "Daphnis et Chloe'." The orchestra, under the direction of John Welsh, isn't the National Symphony, but it displayed a high level of musicianship, with a balanced sound, crisp ensemble and finely controlled dynamic range. Maxwell, rapturous in the first exultant notes, maintained the drama in softer passages with a voice light as a caress.
The orchestra and male chorus joined for a fervent performance of Randall Thompson's "The Testament of Freedom." It would be difficult to overpraise the powerful mosaic of voices in the spine-tingling realization of unabashedly patriotic texts by Thomas Jefferson. Songs by Poulenc and Schumann and Rossini's "Thieving Magpie" overture rounded out the program.