Review: Piedmont Singers

with Classical Revolution RVA Chamber Orchestra
Erin Freeman conducting
June 28, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts

The Piedmont Singers of Central Virginia, an ensemble of eight voices based in Farmville and Hampden-Sydney, brought together two semingly disparate composers – Felix Mendelssohn and Arvo Pärt – in a program of sacred works presented to a capacity crowd in the Marble Hall of the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Mendelssohn’s cantata “Christe, du Lamm Gottes” (“Christ, You Lamb of God”), framed by Pärt’s “Da pacem Domine” and “Berlin” Mass, turned out to have more in common than might have been expected.

All three works are contemplative in tone, and fittingly on the quiet side. And they are deeply informed both by religious belief and sturdy compositional precedents, in Mendelssohn’s case by the forms and techniques of Johann Sebastian Bach, and in Pärt’s case by his “Tintinnabuli” (bell-like) compositional style, melding ancient and medieval liturgical chant with modern, at times quasi-serial practices.

The “Berlin” Mass, written in 1990 for the Katholikentag (Catholics Day) festival at Berlin’s St. Hedwig Cathedral, adds to the standard Mass setting two alleluias and a “Veni sancte spiritus” section appropriate for Pentecost performances, and two more alleluias for Christmas performance. All were sung in this concert.

The vocal octet blended and balanced its voices well through most of the program, although soprano voices occasionally stood out more than optimally. The male soloists shone in their introductions of Pärt’s alleluias.

Sufficient projection was a challenge in the large, crowded space in which they performed, especially when competing with stray noises from the audience, the bar and surrounding galleries.

A small string ensemble, led by Erin Freeman, acompanied the Mendelssohn cantata and the Pärt Mass with warmth and suitable reticence.

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