Monday, March 4, 2019

MUSIC REVIEW: HARMONIUM CHAMBER SINGERS FILL GRACE CHURCH SANCTUARY WITH BEAUTIFUL MUSIC

By Jane Primerano

When the full Harmonium Choral Society sings at Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, the group fills the chancel.

When the Harmonium Chamber Singers perform, they don’t fill the chancel, but they do fill the sanctuary with beautiful music.

The Chamber Singers presented Swan Song on Saturday, March 2. Some of the songs were actually about swans, and one set of songs was the actual swan song of composer Heinrich Schutz.

Artistic Director Anne Matlack always surprises and delights with her music selection.

“We got off track from swans and into trees,” she announced at one point before introducing a piece based on Dylan Thomas’ We Walked Through the Trees and Arboles by Michael Rosin, a one-time winner of Harmonium’s high school choral composition contest.

The first choral composition winner, Dale Trumbore, was represented by Faster and Closer to Home, the appropriate closing number.

Most of the other selections were about swans, or at least birds. Some were ancient: The Silver Swan by Orlando Gibbons from the golden age of English music; Il bianco e dolce cigno by Jacques Areadelt from the Renaissance. Some modern, including one of a set of Hindeminth songs.

Matlack likes to find new composers, especially women and in this concert, she found selections by American Sarah Rimkus and Canadian Sarah Quartel.

She relinquished the conductor’s baton three times. And each of the younger conductors did a terrific job. Jamie Bunce is the director of choral activities at Columbia High School in Maplewood and Matthew Lee is director of choirs at John P. Steven High School in Edison.

Marin Sedek conducted his own work, choral settings of Little Bird by Madame Jeanne Guyon, The Wild Swans at Coole by William Butler Yeats and Wings by Wilfred Gibson. He is Harmonium Composer-in-Residence.

“Marty sang with us in high school,” she said of Sedek, adding she liked Little Bird because there “isn’t enough fast music in choral singing.”

As she does with the full choral society, Matlack gave pieces to the men and women alone. She also divided the group into two choirs, taking advantage of the facing choir pews.

Matlack’s program notes explain the Chamber Singers are “25 of the most advanced members of Harmonium” and it shows. Whether singing Monteverdi or McCartney, they are total professionals.

An entire concert of a cappella music can be taxing, but you wouldn’t know it from the singing by the Chamber Singers. They are total professionals and made each selection seem easy. The guest conductors were as effective as Matlack, if not quite as energetic. The singers were obviously comfortable with all the changes and the various ways they were set up to perform, hearing different voices from different directions in various songs.

The acoustics at Grace are excellent for choral music and this concert proved the size of the group is not a factor.