Photo by Gary Gold
Like any skilled ensemble, they can venture into areas of the repertory that leave the merely adequate far behind. Unlike many ensembles, they continue to grow and explore. We in the audience reap the bounty of this, especially this time of year when music is cheap and shopping expensive.
Last night’s concert at the First Reformed Church in Schenectady was a virtuoso job gorgeously done, a program that was as much about vocal texture as about Christmas.
“In Silent Night” is the title of the group’s latest recording; it’s also something of a signature song that ended the program. And, fittingly, it was applied to the program itself. Except for a few much too enthusiastic coughers in the audience, the stillness of the large hall was a canvas upon which vocal colors were applied.
The chorus numbers about sixty but the size, thankfully, isn’t something behind which lesser voices hide. Janower uses that size for dynamic shading, as in Daniel Pinkham’s “The Kings and the Shepherds,” in which contrasting moods are established from section to section, or in the slow crescendo of Healy Willan’s setting of “The Three Kings.”
Seven sets comprised the program, each a little suite of songs that were juxtaposed for both musical and literary effect. “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which opened the concert, is an arrangement that lends a slyly modern feel to a Gregorian Chant, and this kind of duality was shared by a number of other pieces on the program.
The first half featured works in English or Latin or a combination of both; in the second half texts in German and French were added. Diction is another of Albany Pro Musica’s strong points; you hardly need the lyric sheet that is made available.
A group like this likes to show off a little, too; “The First Nowell” is a song we’ve all sung, but not like the Stephen Paulus arrangement, which fit complicated countermelodies into a seamless setting.
Only an ensemble with a keen sense of harmony and dynamics could produce as lovely a finish to a song as was done with “O Jesu, all mein Leben”; likewise, the group can intone a tough first chord such as begins Randall Thompson’s “The Best of Rooms” with ease, a credit both to them and to Griggs-Janower.
Following the peaceful finish of “In Silent Night,” the audience of several hundred was treated to a round of familiar encores sung with a dignity and skill I’m afraid we’re not going to hear anyplace else in the next three weeks.
– Schenectady Daily Gazette, 10 December 1990