Washington has too many choruses, a superabundance of amassed volunteers singing too many performances of overdone symphonic choral repertoire. The dire economic downturn began to cull the herd, but new groups continue to appear. Perhaps the best of these, the Washington Master Chorale, ended its first full season on Sunday afternoon at the National Presbyterian Church, with a sterling spring concert of British choral masterpieces.
Artistic Director Thomas Colohan founded the group as the National Master Chorale in 2009 but rebaptized it at some point this season. The combination of professionals and carefully chosen volunteers paid dividends in the group’s warm, full-bodied but not overblown sound, particularly in unaccompanied motets by Charles Stanford and Edward Bairstow. David Lang gave virtuosic fire to Herbert Murrill’s organ solo “Carillon,” but he did not seem to have a clear sightline to the podium. He was sometimes at odds with Colohan, accompanying the choir in Murrill’s lively “Magnificat” and “Nunc Dimittis” and “Like as the Hart,” that old Herbert Howells standby.
When the full choir of about 80 voices stood in mixed formation, rather than by vocal section, they had almost impeccable intonation and were seamlessly blended, while the 30 paid singers, performing alone on Renaissance motets by Thomas Tomkins and Orlando Gibbons, had a less unified sound. The second half featured rare performances of Benjamin Britten’s “The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard” and Ralph Vaughan Williams’s “In Windsor Forest,” accompanied with verve and sensitivity by pianist Mark Vogel and featuring a strong solo turn by soprano Laura Stuart. It is good news indeed that the group will survive to next season, when it will devote concerts to music by Alice Parker, Washington composer Lori Laitman and French composers.
Downey is a freelance writer.