For its annual St. Cecilia's Day concert, the choir and orchestra of the Cathedral of the Madeleine, under the direction of Gregory A. Glenn, presented a program that featured two of England's most significant composers Henry Purcell and Benjamin Britten.
Even though separated by more than 200 years, the two are nevertheless musically related in their substantial contribution to the choral tradition of the British Isles.
Purcell added to the choral repertoire with an extensive body of works, among which is the "Symphony Anthem: O Sing Unto the Lord," which was performed Friday.
The words, taken from Psalm 96, are set simply, without much vocal flourish. Purcell created a wonderfully jubilant hymn filled with brightness and joy. The children's choir sang the piece magnificently. Their clear voices brought resonance to the music.
The soloists were also wonderful. Countertenors Travis Hewitt and Andrew Maughan, baritone Tyler Oliphant and bass Brandon Horrocks sang superbly, especially Oliphant. His rich voice lent itself perfectly to the work and contrasted well with the children's crystalline voices.
The string orchestra played well, and Glenn's direction was fluid. He also brought a fine balance between the singers and the orchestral ensemble.
The strings were also spotlighted in Purcell's Chacony in G minor, which followed the anthem. Their playing was articulated and cleanly executed. Glenn conducted them with conviction and elicited an expressive reading from the small ensemble.
The major work of the evening was Benjamin Britten's cantata "Saint Nicolas," op. 42. Like Purcell, Britten left a voluminous amount of choral and vocal music that carries on the British tradition. Britten most certainly looks back to a previous era for his immediate musical inspiration in many of these choral pieces, yet he expands on the vocabulary with a modern harmonic language and a more sophisticated vocal style.Once again, the children sang exquisitely, with emotional depth and dramatic flair and with a wealth of expression. Tenor Jason McAdams, as Saint Nicolas, gave a dynamic performance. He has a lyrical yet powerful voice that resonated wonderfully in the cathedral.