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Emotional evening for Worcester Chorus.

Byline: Joyce Tamer


In the three years it has performed under the baton of Andrew Clark, the Worcester Chorus has thrilled local audiences with many wonderful concerts, but none has been so dramatic and emotionally intense as the one presented Saturday evening. In the beautiful and appropriate setting of St. Spyridon Orthodox Cathedral, the chorus presented a powerful and reverential treatment of Rachmaninoff's "All-Night Vigil" to a capacity audience that sat in transfixed silence through the entire program.

Before the concert began, conductor Clark made brief introductory remarks about the composition. He then paid a graceful and generous tribute to Stasia Hovenesian, director of Music Worcester, and dedicated this, his final concert with the Worcester Chorus, to her. The Rev. Dean Paleologos, dean of the cathedral, then approached the main aisle followed by his assistant bearing the Paschal candle. From the balcony a cantor intoned the Easter anthem, "Christos Anesti," ("Christ Is Risen") as Rev. Paleologos blessed the gathering. It was a particularly appropriate and touching introduction to the program that followed.

Rachmaninoff used the various psalms, antiphons and responses from three elements of the Orthodox Divine Office as the text for the "All-Night Vigil." Though the piece is sometimes called "Vespers," it actually includes prayers from two other portions of the Divine Office. Musically Rachmaninoff borrowed sacred Russian chants as the basis for 10 segments of the composition and created five original chants as the basis for the remaining five. The music is scored for a four-part chorus of mixed voices, which is often called upon to separate into as many as 11 different parts throughout the composition. The music is sung a cappella, since instruments are not in the tradition of the Orthodox liturgy, and the voices for the most part move homorhythmically, that is there little or no polyphony or imitative writing.

One can only contemplate the difficulties in presenting a piece such as the "All-Night Vigil." It requires learning not only the music, which uses many different modes, rather than the familiar diatonic scale, but also learning the Russian pronunciation of the text. Finally the group has to learn to project and sustain the emotional intensity of the various prayers. It is a daunting task, but one which the chorus accomplished with great success. Rachmaninoff's sumptuous harmonies, including the demanding basso profundo part, were sung with a full, rich sound, which was enhanced by the acoustics in the cathedral; the required wide range of dynamic shadings was dramatically and sensitively delivered by the chorus. One could quibble about a few tentative entrances and sporadic problems with intonation, but the overall presentation was professional, polished and very effective.

The guest soloist, Thomas Cooley, possesses a beautiful tenor voice, which he used to great advantage. Rachmaninoff unfortunately wrote a small solo tenor part, so it is hoped that Worcester audiences will have the opportunity to

hear Mr. Cooley sing a more extensive program in the near future. Members of the chorus provided the other solo parts. The alto solos were gorgeously sung by a perfectly matched quartet consisting of Susan d'Entremont, Julie Krugman, Pamela Mahoney and Christine Ulmer. The short bass solo was capably handled by Alan Hoffsommer.

At the conclusion of the concert, Rev. Paleologos complimented and thanked Andrew Clark and Thomas Cooley and presented them with Orthodox icons. Stasia Hovenesian was called forward to receive well-deserved accolades and a bouquet of flowers.

Clark's programming in his tenure here as director of the Worcester Chorus has been interesting and unusual, and under his direction the chorus has grown musically and artistically to a high degree of excellence. The musical life of the community has been greatly enriched by his presence. He will be missed.
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Publication:Telegram & Gazette (Worcester, MA)
Date:May 12, 2009
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