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Princeton Pro Musica Opens Season With Musical Tribute to Princeton Composer

Nancy Plum

Princeton Pro Musica opened its 2005-2006 season with a tribute to the past. Most of Princeton knew composer and professor Edward T. Cone because of his long affiliation with Princeton University and his extensive compositional output. However, Princeton arts organizations particularly revered Mr. Cone for his philanthropy; indeed some of these activities would not have been around today if it were not for the generosity of Mr. Cone. On the first anniversary of his death, Princeton Pro Musica presented a Sunday afternoon musical memorial to the composer in Richardson Auditorium, which included two of Mr. Cones shorter works and two choral classics.

Pro Musica conductor Frances Fowler Slade arranged the chorus in several configurations for the afternoon repertory. The entire chorus sang Cones settings of Psalms 90 and 91, and chamber choruses sang Mozart's Vesperae Solennes de Confessore and Bachs Magnificat. These two masterpieces also included a vocal quartet of soloists: soprano Julianne Baird, contralto Ory Brown, tenor Frederick Urrey, and baritone Kreshnik Zhabjaku, and the Magnificat featured a brief appearance by the Princeton Girlchoir.

Ms. Slade anticipated the Christmas season a bit with these two works, both of which include the Advent Magnificat text. Mozart's six-movement Vespers setting served Pro Musica well, with opportunities for precise block choral singing and little overly-difficult music. The chorus and orchestra handled the dynamic effects well, erring on the side of classical conservatism and careful performance. The orchestra took more musical risks than the chorus, leading to a few instances of overpowering the voices, especially when the solo quartet was singing. The Laudate Pueri movement included pianissimo passages which were particularly well executed by both chorus and orchestra.

This work is most well-known by its signature Laudate Dominum movement, set for soprano soloist and chorus. In a movement which can bog down in overly Romantic tempi, Ms. Slade kept a brisk pace, with Seth Baer providing luscious obbligato bassoon playing. Ms. Baird drew out the long solo soprano lines, but perhaps in search of expressiveness, the phrases seemed to start late. Her singing was more decisive in the closing Magnificat, a movement which kept getting faster and faster, but which closed the work on a festive note.

Edward Cone composed his settings of Psalms 90 and 91 in 1948, influenced heavily by World War II. Given how long ago these pieces were written, it is all the more remarkable that Sunday afternoon's performance was billed as a premiere. These works show the influence of post-World War II Stravinsky, with a bit of bitonal Charles Ives thrown in.

Ms. Slade wisely introduced the works to the audience in bits and pieces, demonstrating some of the more impressive musical effects, such as the haunting opening of Psalm 91, with its violin and cello octaves. In both of these works, Ms. Slade looked for the dramatic element, and although some of the entrances could have been a bit cleaner, Edward Cone would have liked this performance. The chorus declaimed the text with clarity, and the orchestra, especially the brass, was well integrated into the musical fabric. Mr. Cone was very good to inner voices, and it was a pleasure to hear the nice roles for the alto voices and the violas.

Ms. Slade refreshingly closed the concert with Bachs Magnificat, opening the piece in a sprightly tempo. The strings played especially stylistically, allowing the voices to come through the musical texture. In the Et Exultavit and Quia Respixit movements, Ms. Baird demonstrated a clean sound, although the opening low notes of each phrase in the Et Exultavit were a little hard to hear. Ms. Baird was perfectly complemented by oboist Caroline Park in the Quia Respixit. The Quia Fecit was the first chance to hear Mr. Zhabjaku, who sang with a clean and precise sound. Ms. Brown and Mr. Urrey effectively performed the Et Misericordia movement, accompanied by some of the nicest orchestration Bach wrote for two flutes (Mary Schmidt and Reva Youngstein) and a continuo of organ, cello, and double bass. The Princeton Girlchoir, prepared by Janet Westrick, presented their one movement with a clean and precise sound, with each section having the same vocal character.

Pro Musica has a long established history of working with local composers, and this concert was a fitting tribute to someone whose choral music is not well known. It seems that this might change as Mr. Cone's musical legacy becomes more exposed and more artists become familiar with the intricacies of an innovative composer.

Princeton Pro Musica's next performance will be on Friday, December 16. Featuring Britten's Ceremony of Carols, Ferka's A Festival of Carols, and Conrad Susa's Carols and Lullabies. For tickets call (609) 683-5122.

In the October 5 review of the Princeton Symphony, David Hattner was inadvertently listed as a flutist. Jayn Rosenfeld is the principal flutist of the Princeton Symphony, while Mr. Hattner is principal clarinetist.


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