The weekend of March 29 – 31 saw again the triple-headed monster of too many artsy choices rearing its head. Since divinity can trifurcate, but mere mortals cannot, Saturday night required choices twixt Master Chorale, Chamber Music Amarillo and Carmina Burana, all right here in Cowboy Country!
Part of the dilemma was resolved by gracious permission from Dr. Nate Fryml to attend the Friday night dress rehearsal of Master Chorale at St. Andrews Episcopal Church.
The program of eight spiritual works ranging from Bach to Fryml impressed. Included in these selections were works by two American female composers of the 20th century, Emma Lou Diemer and Alice Parker, an English madrigal and Rejoice in the Lamb by Benjamin Britten.
The precision and productivity of rehearsal time stood out. Choristers complied immediately with terse instructions and observations. Appearances assert that the Master Chorale has bought into Dr. Fryml, to which the ensuing lofty sound bears testimony.
The MC sang Saints Bound for Heaven by Alice Parker, the primary arranger for the Robert Shaw Chorale for twenty years. This work is a sequence of statement and response, as well as the embodiment of the pulse and credo of the Second Great Awakening, with the many voices making each part sound as one, all with impeccable phrasing and timing. One could almost sense shaped notes in the score.
Nate’s signature work, Rejoice Again, commissioned by Chamber Music Amarillo and premiered on January 12, received a much anticipated second hearing. A variety of scriptures formed this text, which, richly colored by the composition, conveys the message of rejoicing through the peaks and valleys of one’s spiritual walk.
As predicted in January, this piece will acquire legs, becoming frequent liturgical fare for churches nation-wide having quality choirs. But, it premiered right here!
A select group of twelve singers performed the work All People Clap Your Hands by Thomas Weelkes right out of the English madrigal tradition of the early 17th century. Madrigals pose a challenge when parts are uneven, but these vocalists had the clear and distinct harmony that defines this genre.
O Come Let Us Sing by Emma Lou Diemer, was another American composer of the 20th c. whose works range from solo to orchestral and choral. This song, taken from the Psalms, reveals the composer’s tendency to blend the traditional with the modern and then amplify by intense dynamics. When the MC came to the phrase “Oh worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness,” chorale members produced an effect both haunting and profound.
Bach’s Jesus Bleibet Meine Freunde was an appropriate choice this weekend of JSB’s 334th geburtstag. And, the chorale had sufficient tenors and basses to give this work the profound depth it requires and then delivers.
The Saturday night performance brought rave reviews from a packed house, significant because two concurrent events were similarly at capacity. That sometimes there are, here on the high plains, too many options in the fine arts is a problem with which we of the Panhandle will just have to deal.
To find in Amarillo a professional caliber community chorus attests to the level of local talent and the astute direction of Dr. Nate Fryml. This reality is just another reason we can say, with justifiable hubris, “Keep Amarillo Artsy! Keep Austin Weird! Keep Lubbock in the Rear View Mirror!!!