In performance: Washington Chorus
Washington Chorus goes for Baroque
by Joe Banno
The explosion of sound on the first sung phrase of Handel’s anthem “Zadok the Priest,” which opened Friday’s concert by the Washington Chorus at National Presbyterian Church, was exhilarating. Music director Julian Wachner knows how to draw maximum drama from a score, and it didn’t hurt that his large chorus – over 180 singers were listed in the program – was set in a beefy, resonant acoustic.
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Indeed, that acoustic tended to cloud such gargantuan moments as the climactic “Alleluia” section of Handel’s “The King Shall Rejoice,” but the thrill factor was worth it. This sort of Victorian-sized choral sound is less frequently applied to Baroque music in these days of historically informed performance practice. But Wachner was careful not to let the larger scale turn into bloat or lugubrious articulation. Throughout a varied program of 17th- and 18th-century scores, he insured that soprano tone hinted at the purity of boys’ voices, the mezzos suggested the tang of countertenors, and the male sections displayed a notable mellowness and pliancy.
Wachner’s selection of music was freshly conceived, joining stylistically backward-looking and forward-thinking pairs of scores by Schutz and Monteverdi, and including ear-teasing rarities by Sweelinck and Lotti alongside favorites by Purcell (a glowingly effective reading of “Hear My Prayer, O Lord”) and Bach. Organist William Neil’s imaginatively registered work in a Bach transcription of a Vivaldi concerto was a welcome palette-cleanser, and a brass sextet provided exuberant work in Gabrielli’s “Jubilate Deo,” and throughout the program.
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