Steven Rosenberry made a bold move Saturday night when he, an orchestra and his choir from St. Paul’s Episcopal Church presented Arthur Honegger’s “King David.”
The 80-minute work is rarely performed, despite the fact that it is quite a charming symphonic psalm based loosely on the biblical story of David. Honegger wrote the music in 1921 to text by Rene Morax. The music and the text are very colorful. Honegger used a 15-member orchestra made up of woodwinds, brass, timpani, piano and a string bass. What made the music so special was that Honegger paired unusual combinations, such as a piccolo and oboe or a single trumpet against woodwinds that drew out the poetic combinations that Morax created. Nothing was predictable and the music was inventive and evocative even when there didn’t seem to be a tonal center.
The work was in three parts. A narrator, which in this case was the Rev. Gary Kriss, alternated with the orchestra in various combinations or with the chorus or with a soloist with chorus and orchestra. The soloists included sopranos Susan Harwood and Christina Pickreign, mezzo-sopranos Erica Sparrow and Donna Vincent and tenor Andrew Truex. The chorus had only 25 singers. Janet Peltz was the astonished and creepy witch of Endor.
The performance was highly praiseworthy. The chorus and the soloists sang with good diction, rich tones and strong intent. Truex and Harwood were particularly good. Truex has a clear, ringing voice that easily projected over the orchestra, which in this church, with its very live acoustics, was no mean feat. Harwood’s phrasing, especially in the high abstract lines, was very fluid.
The excellent orchestra was stellar whether in the various and frequent solos or as support for the singers. Rosenberry conducted and kept the pace moving. Kriss intoned his many long lines much like he would at sermon time. Here, in this context, however, more inflection and a theatrical flair would have enlivened the production greatly.
The major problem was the balance between the orchestra and the singers. The church has very high ceilings and the sound just bounced around and resonated. Although the chorus numbered more than the orchestra, it was still a fairly small group of singers and having to balance out with a brass choir proved troublesome. The sopranos were also not as strong on top as they were in their middle ranges.