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The Music Department of North Carolina State University called the program a “Choral Collage.” And indeed that was descriptive of the evening at Talley Ballroom. Since the Chamber Singers had appeared a couple of nights earlier, it was time for the remainder of the NCSU choral groups to get into the act.
The first two groups to appear were the University Singers and the Women’s Choir, both with conductor Thomas Koch and accompanist Sabrina Hunt. The Singers, with seven members, showed the precision and discipline one expects from such a small ensemble. They performed perhaps best in the Pergolesi “Stabat mater dolorosa,” where the piano accompaniment was so prominent and pleasing, and in the fugal motet of Hans Leo Hassler, “In te Domine, speravi,” where their forces were supplemented by four male voices. The Women’s Choir came on strong in an improbable offering by the famed cellist, Pablo Casals. The text was in Latin, a selection of early verses from Song of Solomon. (Some of the furnished English translation was a bit pallid, suffering from inevitable comparisons with, say, Revised Standard or King James versions.) And who has ever composed better music for treble voices than Mendelssohn? His “Abschiedslied der Zurvogel” (Farewell Song of the Migrating Birds) seemed made for these singers. They captured this composer’s characteristic tunefulness and the somber mood of such lines as “Gone are the days of summer’s bloom.” and “ Gone are the places we called home.”
Rounding out the evening were the Men’s Choir and the Concert Choir, under the leadership of Alfred E. Sturgis, with accompanist Nancy Whelan. To judge from audience reaction, the favorite by the former group was a contemporary piece by Swedish composer, Morten Lauridsen. His song “Dirait-On,” is based upon a French poem by the German poet Rilke. The men’s voices were especially effective as they repeatedly intoned the “Dirait-On” (So they say) as an appealing refrain. They had opened in fine form with sacred pieces by Handel and his predecessor, Antonio Lotti.
The Concert Choir, a sizable force comprising practically all of the preceding singers, led with “Domine, Ad Adjuvandum Me Festina” by Giovanni Martini. This piece called for the considerable talents of quartet members, soprano Laura-Nelle Parnell, alto Maddison Harris, tenor Wade Burrell, and bass Justin Buie. The early American “My Shepherd Will Supply My Need” had been presented earlier in the week featuring beautiful and elaborate instrumental accompaniment. That the piano alone served so effectively here in this Wilberg arrangement is a compliment to accompanist and singers.
The outlandish offering of the evening was “Trepute Martela” (The Flax-Picking Song) by Lithuanian composer Vaclovas Augustinas. Needed to pull off this one were four-hand piano, four percussionists, spoken parts, chants, and foot stamping. Sturgis reported that in searching the extensive corpus of Lithuanian flax-picking songs, he had found nothing quite as good. It’s a safe bet that few in the audience were able to dispute him on that point.
One number seemed to stand out in the six selections as the best prepared of all. David Dickau has written “Stars I Shall Find,” based upon the poem by Sarah Teasdale. The singers looked comfortable and confident, needing minimal assistance from the score, concentrating intently on the director. The result was riveting.