The National Men's Chorus made a triumphant debut before a capacity audience Sunday at Western Presbyterian Church on Virginia Avenue NW with "Masters in This Hall," a program focusing on the music of Christmas and Hanukah.
Thomas Beveridge, founder and conductor of the new chorus, also supplied most of its arrangements of traditional music, including the French carol that gave the program its title. A composer who studied with Randall Thompson, Walter Piston and Nadia Boulanger, Beveridge is kept busy producing commissioned works. He is also a distinguished baritone soloist, whose knowledge of the human voice--its potential and limitations--was evident in his arrangements of such varied material as Michael Praetorius's "Lo, How a Rose Ere Blooming," Adolphe Adam's "O Holy Night" and the carol "The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy." The heart of the program lay in these and other arrangements--most of all the dramatic "Three Holy Kings," a song of Richard Strauss that Beveridge arranged for men's chorus and soprano soloist and choreographed as a processional. Other arrangements were by J.S. Bach (a chorale from Cantata 140: "Wachet auf") and Ralph Vaughan Williams (a marvelously polyphonic "Wassail Song"). Beveridge's arrangements did not suffer in comparison. As composer and as music director, he knows how to balance and blend the homogeneous sound of massed men's voices (occasionally with a soprano soloist), how to vary dynamics, tempo and tonal colors for expressive effect and how to program for striking continuities and contrasts.
Although new on the scene, his chorus sings with exemplary polish, expression and control, bringing out the value not only of the music but of the texts. Soprano Dorothy Kingston fought against an attack of laryngitis--successfully, though not without a few seconds of discomfort. Skilled instrumental accompaniment was provided by pianist Edward Newman and organist Celia Amstutz. The chorus's next program, planned for April, will include Masses by Cherubini and Gounod.