Scott Tucker, the new artistic director of Washington’s 170-member Choral Arts Society, launched his first major classical concert with the group on Sunday, conducting the singers and instruments at the National Presbyterian Church. Tucker’s forces also included a chamber ensemble of 10 brass players, percussion and organ. Tucker charged into every item on the program, demonstrating he is clearly an ardent, driven champion fully in command at every moment. The chorus and orchestra rarely missed cues. Previously having conducted choruses at Harvard and Cornell, Tucker succeeds Norman Scribner, who founded and led Choral Arts for almost 50 years.
For his Washington performance, Tucker chose a program with a theme of the somber despair of the Last Judgment, leading with two mournful motets: Paul Hindemith’s “Apparebit Repentina Dies” (opening with a brilliant brass ensemble in an antiphonal fanfare); and Johannes Brahms’s beautifully rendered “Warum ist das Licht Gegeben dem Muehseligen,” followed by Brahms’s sacred song “Lass Dich nur Nichts Nicht Dauren” and William Walton’s brief yet poignant “Antiphon.”
For the concert’s second half, Tucker chose music of rejoicing: Ralph Vaughan Williams’s jubilant “O Clap Your Hands,” for chorus, organ and brass; and Benjamin Britten’s eight-section festival cantata. Three works by Giovanni Gabrieli closed the afternoon. Here Tucker said he aimed “to fill the expansive spaces of National Presbyterian with voices and instruments” in order to follow Gabrieli’s practice of dividing his musical forces into groups stationed around the cross-shaped St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. Gabrieli’s “Canzon XVI a 12” for brass fared extremely well. But St. Mark’s is designed in a Byzantine-style Greek cross, with four equal arms so that various groups of musicians could perform antiphonally from the four spaces. Tucker chose to line the brass and his chorus in single file all around National’s acoustically reverberant interior so that the distinct grouping that Gabrieli intended was inaudible. The result was surround-sound, but from everywhere.
Porter is a freelance writer.