St. Cecilia Chorus – Bernstein & Duruflé

Chichester Psalms
Requiem, Op.9

St. Cecilia Chorus
David Randolph

Hanne Ladefoged-Dollase (contralto)
Christopher Creaghan (organ)

Reviewed by: Nick Romeo

Reviewed: 24 February, 2008
Venue: Church of Heavenly Rest, New York City

Leonard Bernstein. ©Pierre Voslinsky Courtesy of The Leonard Bernstein OfficeThough ostensibly a religious piece, there are moments in Leonard Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms” that sound more like dance-numbers in a musical than songs of praise in a church. Bernstein did in fact re-cycle some early drafts of “West Side Story” into the Psalms, and the driving rhythms of the first movement feel almost heretically joyful.

Though the performance was rough at moments, the enthusiasm of the performers was palpable. David Randolph began the concert with some remarks about the work that were illustrated with brief musical examples sung by the chorus. Good as his intentions surely were, he forgot to tell us when the actual concert began. Thus what seemed like an extended example turned out to be the performance.

Bernstein’s music certainly supports the injunction of the text: “Make a joyful noise unto The Lord all ye lands”. Its jazzy syncopations are wonderfully uplifting, and while the chorus had some trouble blending during the slower lyrical passages, the singers captured the rhythmic exuberance of the first movement. One major lapse was the use of a female solo singer in the second movement. Bernstein stated explicitly it should be a boy-soprano or a countertenor in order to emphasize the meaning of the text, which is to be sung as if by David himself.

Maurice Duruflé’s “Requiem” was also introduced by a few musical remarks, one of which was a comparison between the requiem-settings of Fauré and Duruflé. The passages Randoph compared were quite harmonically and rhythmically different and therefore did not illustrate the stylistic similarity he wanted to show. The chorus had difficulty blending once again; individual voices were too easily distinguished. The variety of tone quality and dynamic level within different sections of the chorus was also distracting. But the organist provided supple and intelligent accompaniment and Randolph was deft at navigating the music’s quickly-shifting time-meters. ‘Pie Jesu’, sung this time by a singer of the appropriate gender, was artfully phrased, though the diction could have been crisper. But despite their shortcomings, the performers persuaded by their enthusiasm and love of the music they sang.

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