Light/dark, life/death, secular/sacred – such are the antonyms that describe the two contrasting pieces programmed by conductor Dwight Dockery for the final concert of the Greenville Choral Society’s 2015-16 season. This concert, which took place at Memorial Baptist Church, was also Dockery’s swan song as conductor of the group before he moves on to pursue doctoral studies in music, the sort of moment in life that is certainly filled with contrasting emotions like those in the pieces he combined to create a moving and meaningful experience for the audience.
The program began with the lighter secular piece “Fern Hill” (1960) by American composer John Corigliano, who set his colorful score to the words of Welsh poet Dylan Thomas. Although the poet recalls light and youthful times, there is a darkness to his recollections, a contrast skillfully captured by Corigliano through the use of recurring motives, unpredictable dissonance, and intricate polyphonic writing. The well-prepared choir, orchestra, and mezzo-soprano soloist provided their listeners with a wash of sound that brought to life the rich beauty of the pastoral Welsh landscape of the poet’s childhood.
Although Corigliano’s busy score created a spectacular aural representation of Thomas’ equally-busy, imagery-laden poetry, it also made it impossible to discern the greater portion of the text. While the inclusion of the text in the program remedied this for the choral sections, that inclusion would not have been necessary for mezzo-soprano soloist Jami Rhodes, whose single line and fine diction made her words ring out nicely. In addition, her darkish, mellow timbre (especially lovely in the lower register) contributed nicely to the realization of the composer’s vision.
The second half of the program featured John Rutter’s beloved Requiem. Once again, the forces did not disappoint. Despite a few anxious moments in the choir in the sixth movement, “The Lord Is My Shepherd,” the overall performance was impressive and moving. Under Dockery’s able leadership, the group succeeded in painting the many moods of this sacred masterwork. Rutter’s score offers three of the orchestra members the chance to shine in beautifully-crafted solos. These three players – cellist Wendy Bissinger, flutist Christine Gustafson, and oboist Robert Burkett – offered brilliant interpretations. Likewise, soprano soloist Shelley Maddox delivered Rutter’s challenging ascending lines with ease, her bell-like high “pianissimo” in “Pie Jesu” providing the perfect ending to this plea for everlasting rest.
This concert truly provided something for everyone. It provided a less-familiar work for those seeking something new and one of the most-familiar works for those seeking a visit with an old friend. It also provided the full range of human experience, from secular to sacred, and youth to death. Most importantly, it provided an evening of beauty – something to which all music lovers can relate no matter what their other preferences may be.