Transferring the riches of 16th-century Venice to present-day Washington was a task the Arlington Metropolitan Chorus carried out beautifully Sunday, but with mixed results.
The baroque era's deliberate extravagance began with Giovanni Gabrieli and his stunning compositions for multiple choirs. Created for buildings with complicated echoes and resonances, these works depend a great deal on where they are heard. The National Presbyterian Church may be a formidable instrument, but it's no St. Mark's Cathedral. During "In Ecclesiis," the acoustics favored the brass ensemble's brilliance, swallowing up the third group of singers positioned in the rear balcony.
None of this is to say that the chorus missed the intense expressiveness of Gabrieli's writing. To "Jubilate Deo," where the choirs and brass ensembles play in powerful massive tutti passages, music director Barry Hemphill added dramatic nuances. Sometimes his colorations showed forth boldly, if not with the utmost clarity. For the 20th-century selections, Hemphill remained stylistically attuned to the baroque. Indeed, Morton Gould may have longed for the pomp and splendor of Venice when he wrote his choral music.
Less accessible -- but more interesting -- were Daniel Pinkham's three psalm settings. When Pinkham deploys blocks of sound in a fascinating vocabulary of tonal-atonal contrasts, the chorus grappled for cohesiveness. Thus the piece's final, affirmative shouts of joy also sounded like shouts of relief.