The Sacramento Choral Calendar
Doreen Irwin Singers
Winter Concert - December 18, 2015
by Diane Boul
The Doreen Irwin Singers, named for their founder, artistic director and conductor, is a chorus of close to 50 singers. Their concert on this Saturday evening had no title, but was composed of songs of the season, and was held at Lutheran Church of the Master in Sacramento. It was a nice balance of “Magnificat” with six movements, sacred Christmas pieces, and secular Christmas pieces, including a couple of little vocal surprises near the end.
This church is an interesting venue for a concert. I loved the fairly small size, but it’s very long and not very wide. Maybe this architecture is what created the acoustics that, in part, gave the choir such an exuberant sound; sometimes they sounded twice as large as they actually were. I’ve never experienced this before. The choir seemed capable of loud and louder, while I would have liked more contrasting pianissimos. Although the tenors and basses only made up about one-third of the choir, they sometimes overpowered the two-thirds who were women. Many choirs would be happy to have such a strong presence of men. [I should note that many of these singers participated in this group's 2015 Memorial Day concert at Carnegie Hall, where their power would certainly have been needed!]
Ms. Irwin opened with a few comments about the program, including asking the audience to hold their applause until after the six movements of the “Magnificat” had been completed. I, for one, was glad for this announcement.
The “Magnificat” is a hymn, expressing the joy and thanksgiving of the Virgin Mary. The program states that the composer was Giovanni Battista Pergolesi; but there has been controversy about this attribution, and the weight of opinion seems to be that it was actually the work of Francesco Durante, Pergolesi’s teacher. In any case this is a beautifully composed piece and a fitting addition to a Christmas concert program.
Accompanied by the excellent and supportive accompanist, Dan Poole, the choir began to sing the “Magnificat,” the first Latin lines translating as: “My soul doth magnify the Lord, and my spirit hath rejoiced ....” The opening started with all voice parts audible and nicely blended, though I was able to make out the voices of a couple of the men. For the most part, all eyes were on the conductor; the singers were ready to make adjustments at her direction. The dynamics were strong, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of contrast. No doubt that’s how it’s written.
The second movement, “Et Misericordia” included solos by soprano, Judith Anderson, and alto, Joan Kudin. These solos were sung well, expressing, “And his mercy is on them that fear him, throughout all generations.” There was an obvious difference in the timbre of their voices, but both were pleasant to hear.
Movement IV, “Suscepit Israel”, is a duet for tenor and bass. This was a strong performance by tenor, Quin Smith and bass, Tim Suderman. They complemented each other nicely.
The choir was generally well rehearsed and their diction was good throughout this masterful work. I heard a good harmonic blend between the women’s sections. The entire “Magnificat” sounded joyful, but seemed a bit too loud to me.
[Click here to view the entire program in a separate window.]
While not memorized by all, many singers were obviously able to sing the remainder of the concert without holding music, which is usually a satisfying experience for singers and audience alike. Also a nice touch, which gave many singers a chance to shine, was the programming by Ms. Irwin which allowed for different soloists and small group ensembles throughout the program.
The lovely “Christmas Lullaby” by John Rutter, was enhanced by soloist, Paula Selby, who also sang in lieu of Rima Haidary (listed in the program). Ms. Selby has a sweet voice, appropriate for this lullaby. I think, though, that the audience would have appreciated her performance more (as well as the performances of the other soloists), if a microphone had been available.
“Suo Gan” is a traditional Welsh lullaby, first recorded in print around 1800. Sung in English with a good balance in the women’s sections, I enjoyed soloist Kim Suderman’s rendition of this song. She sang with a nice lilt in her voice, especially appealing in her higher register.
“O Holy Night” was well executed, but again very loud. The arrangement included a small ensemble of mixed voices and bass soloist, Larry Petite.
We heard more small groups in “Baby, It’s Cold Outside”, which was sung by seven duos who are actually couples in this choir. Following was “I’ll Be Home for Christmas” introduced by mellow-voiced tenor, Justin Schulz, backed by a traditional choral arrangement.
The “little vocal surprises” I mentioned earlier were experienced in the presentation of “A Gentle Snow Is on the Ground,” a Latvian song sung in English (a cappella and from memory) by the family trio of Andrea Lucas and her twin daughters, Sophia and Victoria. Sung with sweet gentleness, I’m sure this piece was an audience favorite. Although not mentioned in the program, these young girls are part of Sacramento Children’s Chorus’s advanced touring choir. They will be touring the Baltic countries next year and singing this song in the native Latvian.
“Santa Claus Is Comin’ to Town” was given lots of power and good expression by the choir. Incidental solos were sung by Penny Kline, Wayne Finley, Sara Zeigler, Harlan Malfar, Larry Liseno, and Craig Smalley.
“Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” ended with a very tuneful and mellow sustained chord — a soothing way to end the evening.