The Camerata Singers directed by John Koza presented an evening of choral music at the First United Church in Pacific Grove on Saturday, May 15th. This included many centuries of singing from Ambrosian chant to the Duruflé Requiem.
The evening began with sacred works contrasting a 4th century Ambrosian chant Kyrie with a 20th century Kyrie by Knut Nystedt. The entire program focused on the development of liturgical plainchant spanning more than sixteen centuries. The haunting melodies of both Kyries set the mood for the entire concert. The Camerata Singers sang with security, intelligence and feeling. Their phrasing was nicely coordinated to enhance the high points of each phrase. Suspensions and dissonances were finely controlled and final cadences had sensitivity and finality. This was a concert that was both musically and historically interesting.
Two settings of Bogoroditse D’evo, one by Sergei Rachmaninoff and the other by local composer and Camerata singer Jefferson DeMarco, were similarly based on liturgical chant. The Vespers has been considered possibly one of Rachmaninoff’s finest compositions. Rachmaninoff’s genius in building dynamics and texture in his Bogoroditse Devo was impressively sung by the Camerata Singers. The high point of the composition beautifully shimmered in complex harmonies and a full choral sound. Mr. DeMarco’s Bogorodiste D’evo was gracefully sung by the Camerata Singers. Mr. DeMarco’s influence as a singer could be heard in his construction of long, flowing phrases. The lovely contrast of women’s voices added a quiet simplicity and purity to the opening phrases. Mr. DeMarco’s angelic composition left us wanting to hear much more of his distinctive musical ideas.
Anton Bruckner’s Three Motets demonstrated an intelligent and reserved choral sound, and its Gregorian chant-like lines revealed the influence of Renaissance composers. Although a small ensemble, the Camerata Singers handled Bruckner’s large sound blocks well with a fine understanding of the musical lines which, in addition to Gregorian chant, also tended to show the influence of Renaissance polyphony, Wagner, and the Viennese post-Romantic traditions.
The highlight of the evening was the performance of the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé with Tiffany Truett Bedner, organist. The organ in this church is probably one of the best instruments on the Monterey Peninsula. Ms. Truett’s organ playing was very impressive and solid. Ms. Truett, also an accomplished pianist, is clearly a serious organist. She played with strength and conviction. Ms. Truett understood the complexities of accompanying a chorus, for singers are able to produce tone more rapidly and automatically than the organ. When the organist strikes a key there is a slight delay before the sound is heard. Coordinating voices with organ is especially difficult in an acoustical space as live as the First United Church. Ms. Truett demonstrated an exceptional gift to coordinate this subtle but very important skill.
The Camerata Singers’ sound in the Requiem was light, yet had substance in dynamic contrasts − mostly straight toned and pleasantly cool. This was a very flattering sound for the acoustical space and added to the ambiguous modality of the Requiem. This serious group of professional and amateur singers appeared to be reserved in its presentation, yet was precise and expressive with a controlled reserved sound that enhanced the effectiveness of the Requiem. Soprano Tonya Legaspi sang with a lovely precision, with every word well placed and secure. Baritone soloist Michael Russell’s passion added depth to his beautiful singing. Both these soloists were selected from Mr. Koza’s ensemble, which reflects the high quality of vocalists in this volunteer group.
It is inspiring to hear a high caliber of singers who devote their time and effort for the sake of beautiful music. And the Duruflé Requiem is one of the most beautiful choral pieces ever written. Well done, Mr. Koza!
Robin McKee Williams has directed musical theater at the Forest Theater, Carmel Ballet Academy has been the youth musical director at Western Stage. She presently teaches voice privately in Pacific Grove, Santa Catalina, Stevenson School and Hartnell College. She is credentialed from the McClosky Institute of Boston as a voice specialist.