The Washington Master Chorale presented four works by living composers on Sunday afternoon at National Presbyterian Church in a lithe and nimble performance that underscored how the marriage of voices and instruments can create otherworldly sounds.
With artistic director Thomas Colohan conducting, the chorale’s 54 members sang with zest in the premiere of Jennifer Higdon’s “Ruminations.” Commissioned by the chorale, the 17-minute setting of poems by the Persian poet Rumi offers some of the composer’s signature gems: colorful melodies floating over rhythmic material, chameleon-like harmonics, shimmers of sound — all grounded in a logical structure that allows for interpretive elasticity.
The work fit the chorale like a glove. Its singers (including impressive soloists soprano Robin Beckman, alto Lena Seikaly, tenor Patrick Kilbride and bass Brian Isaac) and the orchestra, pared to 12 instrumentalists, achieved many memorable moments, including an organlike blend in the opening movement, an industrial momentum and smoky earthy tones in “Drum” and a triumphant finale.
With catchy melodies and thrumming passages, Tarik O’Regan’s “Triptych” highlighted the chorale’s greatest strengths: a bold, rich sound and sonorous singing that revels in rhythms and diverging harmonies. It also featured the chorale’s Katelyn Aungst, whose supple, haunting soprano conveyed just the right amount of sweet elegy.
In John Corigliano’s “Fern Hill,” the chorale evoked childhood nostalgia and longing from Dylan Thomas’s eponymous poem. From the carefree, whimsical lines of the opening stanza to the reflective meanderings of the concluding stanza, the singers and orchestra maintained a sense of adventure. A quartet of chorale soloists blended well, while mezzo Natalia Kojanova sang with hope and excitement.
Imant Raminsh’s “Songs of the Lights,” a four-movement composition written in 1985, served as a lovely concert opener and featured the chorale’s women, who beamed their way through the airy, sun-kissed musical setting of several Native American poems.