Susan Hermance Fedak is in her first season as the director for the Burnt Hills Oratorio Society and on Sunday afternoon at the chorus’ season opening concert at Bethesda Episcopal Church, she showed she isn’t taking things slowly.
All the pieces on the program tested the 76-voice chorus. Although Fedak chose works by only Z. Randall Stroope and Randall Thompson, there was plenty of trickiness to go around. Besides the complexity of staggered entrances, extended ranges or chromatic harmony, Stroope wanted the chorus to divide into two sections with all the same four-part harmony to create a kind of stereo effect. Tempos were sometimes very slow with long, sustained lines, and then there was the necessity of having to sing in Spanish.
To the chorus’ credit, they jumped in and embraced every work with enthusiasm. Diction was especially terrific and the chorus’ blend was beautiful particularly in the middle-volume levels. They kept their eyes on Fedak, who conducted with efficiency and made clear demands for cutoffs and entrances.
They opened with four of Stroope’s pieces. “How Can I Keep From Singing” was done a cappella and sung with vibrant tones. The melody by Anna Bartlett Warner was very pretty. They were much more cautious in “Amor de mi Alma” perhaps because it was more complex vocally with the divided chorus. The sopranos sounded a bit strained. Alfred Fedak provided a light support at the organ.
In “Sure on this Shining Night,” their balance was better and their blend was good. Stroope’s writing was interesting with its staggered layers that supported another pretty melody. The mood by now was getting a little familiar until midway through “Reveder le Stelle” with marvelous texts from Dante’s “Divine Comedy,” the colors changed. Hell was mentioned and Stroope went to town describing it with fast and repeated articulations, words and tempo. The basses, who inaugurated the change, sounded prepared. But as the other ranges joined, there was a lack of clarity with the entrances, which created a kind of blur, before the song returned as it began.
Thompson wrote more straight-ahead material for “Choose Something Like a Star” and his a cappella Alleluia. The chorus sounded comfortable and confident, especially in the latter, which was lovely and mellow. But his “Peaceable Kingdom” based on the Book of the Prophet Isaiah had eight challenging movements. The chorus never had a problem with diction or blending. Singing in a declamatory way was also done well. What was most impressive is that with no intermission, the chorus showed stamina to sing for more than two hours. The large crowd gave them a standing ovation.
Also featured were the two singers who each received $500 as part of the 2012 BHOS Vocal Scholarship Award. Soprano Alexandra Rizzo, a senior at Shenendehowa High School, sang Purcell’s “Music for A While” from his “Oedipus” with a clear, light voice. She impressively plucked out those high notes with ease. Rebecca Rogers, a senior at Salem Central School, sang “Presto, Presto” by Carissimi and Clara Edwards’ “Into the Night.” Rogers sang both with a comfortable flow, an easy projection and obvious pleasure.