There seems to be no limit to the number of first-class choruses that can be organized in the Washington area. One of the newest is Choralis, a large mixed group founded four years ago in Northern Virginia by its conductor, Gretchen Kuhrmann. Choralis sounded highly professional Saturday evening at Woodson High School in Fairfax in a program that explored sacred and profane Latin texts: Stravinsky's "Symphony of Psalms" and Orff's "Carmina Burana."
Only one point, balance, might detract from the professional level of the singing. In the Stravinsky, for people in the front rows, the (professional, freelance) orchestra sometimes covered the voices and made the words unintelligible. This was at least partly a result of Stravinsky's powerful, brass-dominated orchestration. The composer said the voices and instruments "should be on equal footing, neither of them overweighing the other." A lovely ideal, but difficult to fulfill.
There was no such problem in "Carmina Burana," which uses a larger, overwhelmingly powerful orchestra, but restrains it beautifully when the focus is on voices. In Kuhrmann's hands, this work was a study of the variety of vocal-instrumental textures possible with a modern chorus, soloists and orchestra.
Choralis may have betrayed its amateur status in the way it richly and obviously enjoyed "Carmina Burana," but it was fully professional in the power and rhythmic vitality of its singing, the precision of its Latin pronunciation, the variety of its emotional flavors.
The three soloists were first-class. Baritone James Shaffran was irreverent, disillusioned, too fond of wine and honest about himself: "I look for my own kind, and I find scoundrels." Soprano Julie Keim was sweet, vulnerable and torn between the claims of virtue and love. Tenor Adam Hall had the shortest but toughest assignment: the high-pitched monologue of a swan being roasted.
All sang with distinction.
-- Joseph McLellan