Oregon Chorale review: Springy summer singing

Hillsboro choir concludes its season of director auditions with a sunny program

by BRUCE BROWNE

The Oregon Chorale closed out its season last weekend at Living Savior Lutheran Church in Tualatin and Hillsboro’s St. Matthew Catholic Church. The choir showed its versatility this year in its artistic responses to three different conductors, each vying for the post of drtistic Director beginning in fall 2016. Dr. Scott Tuomi concluded their run with a richly varied program, grouped around the themes of Spring and Summer.

The first half provided a brief walk through choral history, from William Byrd to Claude Le Jeune, ending on a strong note: the brilliantly composed Ode to St. Cecilia by Benjamin Britten (text by W. H. Auden), and La Passeggiata (The Excursion on the Water) of Giacomo Rossini, and, featuring the women of the choir, Johannes Brahms’ Die Mainacht (May Night).” As in past concerts, Linda Smith was a virtuosic accompanist in Brahms and Rossini.

Scott Tuomi led Oregon Chorale's spring concert. Photo: Don White.

Scott Tuomi led Oregon Chorale’s spring concert. Photo: Don White.

The opening piece, Byrd’s “Sweet and Merry Month of May,” was less captivating: singing a madrigal with a large group is, to say the least, a great challenge. It’s not easy for a 55 voice choir to make sonically viable a piece that was composed with four singers in mind. Le Jeune’s Revecy Venir du Printemps (Spring is Returning) featured five soloists – a well balanced and musical crew. Choir and soloists were doubled by five recorder players.

Dr. Tuomi, Director of Choral Activities at Pacific University, brought the choir to its fullest fruition in the Britten. They met most of the challenges of this extremely demanding piece: lightness when called for, fast tempi, varied articulations, and singing in high tessituras (vocal range) for sopranos and tenors. As in earlier concerts this season, both of these sections were completely solid in blend and balance. Passegiata was a complete u-turn for the singers, calling for a more soloistic sound; all sections responded well.

With its fast tempo and nimble diction, the spritely Walking on the Green Grass by Michael Hennagin signaled a lighter, more fanciful second half of the concert.

“Song for the Mira” by Stuart Calvert featured  “The Four Tenors” of the choir, with the Chorale accompanying. And a fine grouping it was. Tom Hamann particularly, has that latter-Day (as in Dennis) Irish tenor sound, perfect for this setting. It was one of my two favorites, along with Cells Planets, an inventive, futuristic piece by Erica Lloyd. The text compares the cells of our body with the bodies in the universe. There is some quasi-pointillism here, and later a gospel-like section to round out the piece.

The final three pieces celebrated American composers. The first came from one of Leonard Bernstein’s lesser known works, Trouble in Tahiti: the soprano aria, “What a Movie/Island Magic,” was performed vivaciously by Mackenzie LaMotte, graduating senior from Pacific University.

The concert was brought to a warm close with the last two pieces, “Summertime” from George and Ira Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, and “June is Bustin’ Out All Over” from Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein’s Carousel — a hot beginning to the summer. The temperature at the time was over 90 degrees!

So now it remains for the Board of Directors of the Oregon Chorale – with input from choir members – to choose among three candidates. (See my reviews of the two previous concerts here and here.) Who will it be? Their deadline is June 24th – stay tuned.

Portland choral director Bruce Browne led Portland Symphonic Choir and Portland State University choral programs for many years.

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