Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 26
 
Wednesday, July 1, 2009
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Music/Theater

The Princeton Festival Chorus Presents Sublime “Requiem” in University Chapel

Nancy Plum

With such an emphasis on the sung voice over its five year history, it was only a matter of time before the Princeton Festival turned its attention to choral music. Festival Artistic Director Richard Tang Yuk began his tenure with the Opera Festival of New Jersey as chorusmaster, and as Director of the Princeton University Glee Club, recognizes the strong bond between opera and chorus. This year for the first time, the Festival included a choral workshop. Simon Carrington, who initially made his reputation as an original member of the King’s Singers and with a second successful career at Yale, came to Princeton for a week to prepare a 40-voice chorus for a performance this past Saturday night of Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem. The Princeton Festival dedicated the performance in the University Chapel to Jack Ellis, a long-time supporter of the Festival and for whom the Requiem was a favorite piece.

As a mass service, the requiem contains a core set of prayers, and composers throughout music history have rearranged and expanded upon these central texts. Both Duruflé and Faure chose to end their requiems “In Paradisum” while Berlioz announced the “Dies Irae” with surround sound brass choirs. Like Faure, Duruflé set text for soloists, in this case, baritone and mezzo-soprano.

Duruflé began the Requiem in 1947 and published the work with three different combinations of instrumental accompaniments. The version presented Saturday night was accompanied by solo organ, played by University organist Eric Plutz on an instrument tailor-made for a French musical style derived from the impressionistic era. The flow of the music spoke smoothly from the organ, with the rhythm well articulated.

Duruflé incorporated chant into much of his choral music, and from the opening “Introit,” the vocal chant lines were free flowing and well voiced. Singing from in front of the high altar area, the Princeton Festival Chorus was able to send its sound out into the hall with clarity. The soprano section sang with more vibrato than the other sections, and the alto sound was particularly clean and not over-ridden with vibrato. Mr. Carrington erred on the side of lightness with the vocal sound, keeping octaves pure and moving tempi along in a chapel which can easily turn choral sound to mush. Chords came together especially well at the end of the “Christe,” and the chorus took advantage of the expansiveness of the Chapel with the full volume of “Libera me.” Most impressive were the thirds between sopranos and altos in the “Quam olim Abrahae” section. The placement of the voices (mixing sopranos with altos and tenors with basses) also helped build a solid choral sound.

Baritone Jonathan Britt maintained a well controlled sound in the “Hostias” solo (singing from the lectern) arriving at full force on the “Libera me” text. Mezzo-soprano Sage Lutton sang from the pulpit, making it easier to project through the low register of “Pie Jesu.” Ms. Lutton was more forceful in the upper register, ending the movement cleanly on an extended note not always comfortable in the alto voice.

To introduce a “choral workshop” into its roster of activities was risky for the Princeton Festival in a community in which Westminster Choir College offers community choral events almost every week in the summer. However, the numbers and response of the audience at the University Chapel on Saturday night indicated that there is plenty of choral music for all in this area.

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