The Octavo Singers closed its 81st season Saturday night with a sensational concert at First Reformed Church that spotlighted an interesting set of pieces, a vibrant chorus and four soloists who all hit their marks.
Artistic director Curtis Funk has done wonders with this 95-voice chorus. It’s never sounded so well trained. The diction in a broad range of languages from English to Aramaic and Hebrew was clean, entrances were precise, dynamics were controlled, and the agility of the singers was remarkable. This was especially evident in the three “Regina Coeli” (“Queen of Heaven”) that Mozart composed between 15 and 23.
Although youthful efforts, his style was already in place as was his penchant for challenging vocalists. Mozart wrote vocal parts like instrumental lines with many notes, a wide range, and long phrases. He particularly focused his attention on the soprano soloist, brilliantly performed by Melanie Shank, who replaced an ailing Vedrana Kalas on short notice. The other soloists — mezzo-soprano Kara Cornell, tenor Timothy Reno — and baritone Richard Mazzaferro were a supportive team.
The music was buoyant with interesting harmonic shifts, piquant slow sections and a lively support from the 16-piece orchestra. Funk set perky tempos and kept the balances even. Shank shone in her long and many solos and got better and stronger as she went along with an agile technique and ringing tones.
In total contrast was Karl Jenkins’ “Stabat Mater” (2008). The 12 sections took about 65 minutes to perform. They were an inspired melange of many languages, musical styles that included Middle Eastern percussion colors and the archaic mystery of a muezzin’s cries, Elizabethan dance rhythms, and contemplative and mystical sections.
Cornell was the only soloist in five of the sections and she was superb. Her voice was lustrous, her phrases were finished and her diction excellent in Latin, English and Aramaic.
The chorus and orchestra worked as equal partners in music that was pageantry one minute with wonderful harmonies and melodramatic colors before jumping to moments of delicacy and tenderness. Jenkins made unusual choices in setting the varied text, which centered on the sufferings of Mary, but ranged from the Gilgamesh epic to original material.
Whatever the mix, it was a splendid concoction and the huge crowd loved it and jumped to its feet with cheers and whistles.