A large symphonic chorus is more or less hostage to the major choral repertoire. A smaller, more lithe chamber group has other options and, over the years, the Cantate Chamber Singers, under the leadership of Gisele Becker, has taken some risks and, from time to time, has wandered into relatively unexplored but fertile territory.
The group’s latest venture in this respect was its participation Saturday in the premiere of Andrew Earle Simpson’s score for the 1928 silent film “The Wind,” staring a youthful Lillian Gish at the AFI Silver Theatre in Silver Spring. That the choral performance was so embedded in the visual-dramatic ensemble that you can’t talk about it on its own is a testimony to the excellence of the undertaking.
The producers of silent flicks understood the emotional power of music. Simpson has captured the essence of the movie’s story involving a young Virginia girl transported to western Texas, spooked by the wind and forced to fend off the attentions of a bevy of rough cow hands. Simpson has heightened its impact with a recurrent and unsettling wind theme, music that captures the desolation of the arid countryside, the wildness of cowboy life and the abandon of the dance.
Thanks to careful rehearsing and a score that allowed for some flexibility, Becker kept the singers and a small instrumental band (that included Simpson on the theater organ) wonderfully synchronized with the movie. Neither the film’s absence of spoken dialogue nor the drowning of the choral texts in a welter of instrumental sound and theater acoustics mattered. In fact, after reading the lengthy text in the program, that may have been a blessing. The music did its job of amplifying the story’s passion, humor and drama and did it splendidly.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.