“Let’s celebrate and sing” must be Burnt Hills Oratorio Society artistic director Susan Fedak’s credo. Her chorus did just that Sunday afternoon in a rollicking concert before a capacity crowd at the First Reformed Church of Scotia.
Part of the concert’s success was the unusual programming, which included the world premiere of Alfred Fedak’s tuneful “Ave Maria,” which was dedicated to the memory of long-time member Frances Pallozzi and was sung by her daughter, alto Frances Pallozzi Wittmann.
The winners of this year’s vocal scholarship were also presented: mezzo-soprano Nicole Rizzo, a senior at Shenendehowa High School, and soprano Ashley Rickson, a freshman at Schenectady County Community College. Rizzo confidently sang songs by Schumann and Mozart in a well-controlled, lovely voice and good diction. Rickson chose a difficult Copland song but had fun with all the coloratura in an aria from Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus.” Both received large bouquets of roses.
It was the two major works that held the greatest interest: Alice Parker’s “Melodious Accord” and John Rutter’s “Feel the Spirit.” The Parker also used a brass choir and the four soloists of soprano Tess McCarthy, Wittmann, tenor Robert Soricelli, and bass Nicholas Wiggins. The Rutter had a chamber orchestra and soloist mezzo-soprano Sharon Fullard.
The 13 parts of Parker’s piece were based on 19th century folk songs. Her orchestration was very inventive and often inspired with complex and interesting part-writing, multi-meters, shifting key centers, modal scales, and staggering the voices in segments by using only the women or men or a cappella or only with a few brass.
The 71-voice chorus sounded mellow but the balances favored the full brass in the tutti passages and obscured the chorus’ excellent diction. The soloists were adequate except for Wiggins who rolled out his dark caramel tones in his solo with harpist Karlinda Caldicott in finished phrases that were light as air. At full volume, his voice thrilled.
In Rutter’s very jazzy and cleverly arranged seven spirituals, the band was hot, the chorus swung, and Fullard’s luscious contralto voice turned the church into a blues club with gospel overtones. The crowd roared it delight.