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The Mallarmé Chamber Players, a fine orchestra, and the Hudson Festival Choir, all conducted by Philip Hayden, presented an excellent program of choral and instrumental music Sunday evening at Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church as it celebrated its jubilee year. The Mallarme Chamber Players performed W.A. Mozart's Quintet for Horn and Strings, K.407, featuring Michael Hrivnak, French horn, Yang Xi, violin, Petra Berenyi and Emi Hildebrandt, violas, and Nathan Leyland, cello. The Festival Choir sang two choral pieces and also Hayden's substantial cantata And Peace Will Come. Karen Hayden, mezzo-soprano, Joshua Conyers, baritone, and Paul Baswell, tenor, were the soloists in the choral works.
The Mallarmé Chamber Players were in excellent form in their performance of Mozart's great French horn quintet. This three-movement work makes high technical demands on the horn soloist and the string players, and all of them were up to the task. Their playing of the allegro first movement was vibrant and exciting; the phrasing, with its delicately-arched lines, revealed each player's careful attention to details. The string players supported the French horn soloist and each other with sparkling runs and ornaments, and Hrivnak, a superb hornist, enunciated clearly every note of his frequent runs and demanding cadential phrases. The second movement (andante) opens with the horn's statement, in matchless legato, of yet another of the beautiful, lyrical themes so typical of Mozart's slow movements. This exquisite playing continued throughout every phrase of the movement, during which the sustained purity of sound in the violin and the violas made the quiet elegance of the main theme and its harmonies a truly rich aural experience. In the final movement, a rondo and allegro filled with especially satisfying Mozartian melody and harmony, Hrivnak's horn and Yang Xi's violin led the other instruments into the fullest expression of the composer's lightness and gaiety, culminating in a brief but powerful coda made brilliant with trills.
The choral music beginning and ending the program gave obvious pleasure to the large audience in the church because it was highly appropriate, superbly performed, and reflected many hours of painstaking rehearsal. Conductor Philip Hayden's setting of Psalm 67, beginning as a bright, intensely rhythmic work and shifting to a slower, more contemplative mood, is an excellent melding of the psalm text and Hayden's music, and his orchestral and choral writing, the Festival Choir's excellent singing, and the contributions of soloists Karen Hayden and baritone Joshua Conyers assured a powerful opening to this celebratory program. The Festival Choir, accompanied by Hudson Presbyterian's excellent organist, also offered a fine presentation of Natalie Sleeth's exciting anthem "Joy in the Morning."
The highlight of the evening's concert was Philip Hayden's cantata And Peace Will Come, composed in 2007 for the occasion of Hudson Presbyterian Church's fiftieth anniversary. Soloists Karen Hayden, Joshua Conyers, and tenor Paul Baswell, the Festival Choir, the Mallarmé Chamber Players, and the other fine instrumentalists assembled for the occasion performed this five-movement work with grace, skill, and professionalism. Hayden's careful conflation of Biblical texts (selected from the psalms, the Book of Isaiah, the Book of Revelations and the Gospel of St. Matthew) was well served by his exciting solo, choral, and orchestral music.
The first piece, "God is Our Refuge," is a joyous statement of faith in God's profound love for mankind; the music is quietly joyful to begin with but builds steadily to a huge choral climax. Part II, "There Is a River," is praise music at its finest. The orchestration is excellent, especially in the opening phrases leading up to the choir's entrance. Like the lines of the carefully chosen text, the music is straightforward, and the piece concludes simply, with a scene of peace in which the redeemed live joyfully in the City of God. "The Nations Raged," the text set in Part III, presents a quite different mood and has a strong ecumenical quality, with much of the text, including a dark prophecy, in several languages, of the end of the present age. Paul Baswell 's great tenor voice, supported by the choir, offered the core of the prophecy. In Part IV, "Come and See," the quiet musical setting of the description of a world commanded to "Be still, and know that I am God" was effectively expressed in the quiet duet of Hayden and Conyers, whose voices became one inspired vehicle conveying the most important idea in this brief musical statement. Finally, Part V, "You Will Go Out with Joy," is a long statement of praise in which the choir and all three soloists came together, in their best singing in the cantata, to contemplate all of God's new creation in its universal song of joy.