The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Doreen Irwin Singers
Mozart's Coronation Mass - May 21, 2017
by JR Keith
This was my first visit to the Lutheran Church of the Master, and I found it delightful. Acoustics were good and the performance area well suited to a choral concert. This was my second opportunity to experience the Doreen Irwin Singers: I first heard them at the SacSings Festival last year — and I must say, I was excited to hear their fabulous soprano section once again.
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The chorus began with Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's “Ave Verum,” which the audience seemed to enjoy — it's a piece that Mozart fans would recognize. Then for the next 35 minutes, the chorus presented Mozart’s Coronation Mass. Having sung this with another chorus many moons ago, I was very familiar with the work. The chorus had nice rounded vowels during the accented decrescendos at the dramatic opening kyrie's of the “Kyrie” movement. I wrote in my notes, “the sudden contrasts set the mood for what was about to be a crowning moment for a king-to-be.” “Gloria” had gorgeous, ringing tones of sopranos sitting on top, exhibiting beautiful artistic direction, with noticeable contrasts between each of the closing “amens” — these can sometimes come off as tired and lifeless.
The “Credo” had some slight bumps, including some nasal “E's” in some of the mid-voices — but nothing that kept the audience from enjoying the balance of the chorus. The men were a bit vulnerable in “Sanctus” as their parts felt a bit thin against the gutsy alto and soprano sections. But I must admit, they gave it all they had, and I was proud of them! The “Benedictus” movement was marred by some noticeable issues: poor cut offs, uneven blending, and blurry diction which motivated me to write —WATCH YOUR DIRECTOR! But here’s an additional note I made that evening, “There is enough talent on that stage to make this ‘Benedictus’ work. Irwin provided great direction — regrettably, many faces were focused on the music and not on tempo.” But the everyone came together for a strong finish.
The “Agnus Dei” was memorable — soprano Stephanie Blackwell, was marvelous! Her control and sustained notes were artful, and the featured quartet of Marcia Smalley, Tim Suderman, Quin Smith, and Blackwell had my favorite blend of the evening with the chorus supporting for this movement. Tim, Quin, Craig, Rusty, and Harlan — all have wonderful qualities as TTBB soloists and vocal leaders of this chorus! I also appreciated all the fine work Judy, Claire, Hope, Genevieve, Kim, and Sara put into their solo and quartet work. Each of the duet and quartet folks added warmth as entertainers and shared great, vocal chemistry on stage. Andrea Lucus' near-perfect pitch and strong timbre resonated with me especially. I noted that she was my favorite alto of the evening... and that's saying something because all the altos were magnificent!
Part II of the program began with Roger Emerson's wonderful arrangement of Leonard Cohen's “Hallelujah.” The basses rang supreme on this song. Following this was a beautiful rendition of Mark Hayes arrangement of “You Raise Me Up,” one of my favorite Rolf Loveland/Brendan Graham collaborations. It's a difficult undertaking! I love the section where it almost breaks into a hymn-like quality then returns to its pop feel. It was gorgeous. I also noted this: The altos “were beautifully musical and the blend was quite pleasing.” I continued writing in my notes about Hayes' arrangement of “The Prayer” by Carole Bayer Sager and David Foster: “This had such great moments, rich in legato, long connected phrases” that I found myself nodding in agreement to the prayer: it was my favorite song of the night!
The chorus closed the concert with Joseph M. Martin's “The Awakening” and a Mac Huff arrangement of Meredith Willson's “May the Good Lord Bless and Keep You.” Both splendid songs which were applauded uproariously, with even some “hoots and hollers” and a few “bravos,” as well.
Looking at the concert as a whole, I want to first point out that accompanist Dan Pool played the piano masterfully, gifting both the choir and audience with a solid musical foundation as well as deft, nuanced accents. It’s obvious that the chorus worked extremely hard to prepare and perform this concert of high caliber material. I know from experience that Mozart is not easy to read, learn, or sing! Still, I felt that there were some missed opportunities in the chorus’s performance of Part I of the concert. For their part, the soloists were consistently brilliant. And Part II of the concert was wonderful — full of color, contrast, emotion, and moments of brilliance.
When it was over I left that concert with a smile on my face, a lilt in my step, and whistling “The Prayer!”
JR Keith has worn a variety of hats: director, soloist, small and large ensemble member, tenor/baritone, and event planner of choruses from Texas to California, such as FBC Frisco, TX; CCCC Jazz Choir; DBU Chorus; several mission/worship teams; Sanctuary 101; Collin County Community Choir; Turtle Creek Chorale; Dallas Symphony Chorus; Amador Choraliers; and the Sacramento Gay Men’s Chorus.