Cantata Singers finale truly spans the ages

By David Weininger
Globe Correspondent / May 11, 2009
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Two strands of the Cantata Singers' activities met in Friday's concert, the group's season finale. One was Benjamin Britten, the composer on whom the ensemble has focused much of its attention this season. The other was its commitment to educational outreach. The confluence of the two made for an unusual but rewarding evening.

Opening the program was a rare performance of "The Company of Heaven," a cantata composed by Britten for radio broadcast. It sets a large group of widely disparate texts about angels, from the Bible to John Ruskin. Much of the material is narrated by two speakers - here Marya Lowry and James Petosa. While the narration may work in the radio format, in live performance it gave the piece a rather didactic feel. Which is unfortunate, since the piece also contains some strikingly inventive music, like the dark and restless opening and choruses of blistering power. The solos for soprano and tenor were exquisitely sung by Karyl Ryczek and William Hite, two singers with richly hued voices.

The second half began with the latest product of the Classroom Cantatas program, in which Cantata Singers members help public school students compose their own music. Friday's selection came from Dorchester's Neighborhood House Charter School, a group of whose students were on hand to sing "Wrens and Robins" and "The Caterpillar," on poems by Christina Rossetti. They were charming yet surprisingly substantial pieces, vigorously sung by the NCHS students and the Boston Children's Chorus.

Composer Andy Vores used the same poems and melodies in his "Natural Selection," for chorus and orchestra, here given its premiere. Written to celebrate the bicentennial of Darwin's birth, it brings together nature-centered poems with a celebrated passage from "The Origin of Species." Like the world it celebrates, Vores's gripping piece teems with bustle and activity, and its musical language runs from open tonality to a dusky, dissonant syntax. The Darwin setting, which ends the piece, unfolds in one grand sweep, and featured some elaborate writing for trumpets.

Anthony Trecek-King led the orchestra and the BCC in a rousing version of Britten's Psalm 150, which the composer wrote for amateur musicians at his former preparatory school. David Hoose returned to the podium for the final work, Bach's cantata "Nun ist das Heil und die Kraft" (BWV 50), a vigorous single movement for chorus. It brought the lengthy evening to a celebratory close, as did the sight of musicians of all ages crowding onto the Jordan Hall stage for a final bow.

CANTATA SINGERS David Hoose, conductor

At: Jordan Hall, Friday