The Octavo Singers opened their season Sunday afternoon at the First Reformed Church of Scotia under their new director Curtis Funk. Based on what the 77-member chorus sang, audiences will be in for a different type of repertoire than what’s been programmed in the past.
The title for the concert was “Saints Alive” because the two works were to honor two different saints. Charles-Francois Gounod’s “Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cecile” of 1855 was for St. Cecilia (circa A.D. 177) and Mozart’s “Vesperae Solennes de Confessore” of 1780 was for St. Rupert (circa A.D. 718). The concert also featured mezzo-soprano Katherine Tepper, the 2011 Octavo Singer scholarship winner, who sang two arias, and
four soloists: soprano Deirdre Michael, alto Ann Marie Grathwol, tenor David Johnson and bass John Rodier.
The redoubtable Elinore Farnum provided piano and organ accompaniment, and a violinist, cellist, timpanist and a percussion player, who played mostly cymbal, provided instrumental color.
The concert began with the 50-minute Gounod — rarely, if ever, heard locally. Initially solemn with the chorus in unison, it quickly moved into a lot of dramatic, operatic effects.
Gounod didn’t stick with the traditional all-chorus or solo-with-chorus avenues. Instead he altered the combinations with a little chorus here, a few lines of a bass solo there. The chorus impressed with its full tone, excellent diction of the Latin and thrilling volumes of sound — only now and then did the sopranos sound strained.
Funk gave the singers clear beats and strong cues with solid phrasing. He also was in complete control. With a bare wave of his hand or a clenched fist, Funk was able to keep things tight and well-paced. Michael, Johnson and Rodier did well. Michael easily projected and soared, although Johnson was a bit shaky on top.
Tepper, who graduated from Niskayuna High School and now attends the Eastman School of Music, sang Stefano Donaudy’s pretty “O Del Mio Amato Ben” with a clear, sweet voice. She showed she had agility in an aria from Handel’s “Siroe, re di Persia.”
Mozart’s marvelously creative 32-minute work was another matter. Chromaticism, staggered part writing, quick tempos with many words and complex rhythms were only some of the challenges the chorus had to face. They were shaky with all of these. Even the soloists didn’t sound convincing.
Keep ’em guessing
Since Mozart did not repeat any of the texts, which were mostly from various psalms, he kept most of the vocal lines unpredictable. The style was classical with his traditional harmonic progressions, but the way he got through them kept everyone guessing. Only in places where there were unisons did the chorus sound confident. Still, they made a valiant effort. Michael, however, soared with a lovely manner in her various solos.
The next Octavo concert is “Messiah” at 1:30 p.m. on Sunday, Dec. 18, at St. John the Evangelist Church in Schenectady.
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