REVIEW: Under the direction of Maestro Stanley J. Thurston, the DC-based ensemble presented a varied afternoon of sacred choral music.
by Patrick D. McCoy
The annual concert by The Heritage Signature Chorale is certainly one that is looked forward to year after year by its loyal supporters. But this year, the concert even escaped the calendars of some of the most ardent supporters of the choir. This time around, the concert was held earlier in the season, thus not yielding the huge crowd to which we have grown accustomed. Still a worthy audience of lovers of choral music, it was what some concerts often lack: an enthusiastic crowd! Music director Stanley J. Thurston informed personally that the concert is traditionally presented in June, but that next month (June) the chorale will be collaborating with other singers in Italy for a special choral festival and performing individually as an ensemble. So with the big opportunity on the horizon and the thoughtfulness to still make a concert happen, we think that is a plus already in our book!
The anthem “Those Who Wait Upon the Lord” by Craig Courtney provided the chorale the opportunity to establish a connection with its audience. Perhaps one of the most well-known passages of scripture from Isaiah 40, the text came to life with crisp articulation and vocal warmth. It is of note to mention to always solid accompaniment provided by longtime pianist Maxwell Brown. This opening selection also revealed a ‘shift’ in balance in the sections of the choir, especially the sometimes abundance of the sopranos and the small bass section, which was generally noticeable throughout. It’s about making what you have work, and Maestro Thurston managed to create moments of musical magic and vocal artistry. A lovely short setting of the hymn “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” by Steven M. Allen brought a redemptive quality to the concert. Short and motet-like in nature, this setting of the traditional text highlighted the chorale’s ability to sing with a sense of depth and to capture the audience’s attention in a quick moment. The contemporary piece “Lux Aurumque” by Eric Whitacre was a masterclass in phrasing, intonation and dissonances, all executed with verve by the choir. Also beautifully rendered was the concert’s ‘theme song’ “Sure on this Shining Night” arranged by Morten Lauridsen. This was another example of the choir’s reputation for creatively pushing beyond standard repertoire. Ending the first half of the concert were two spirited works, “Elijah Rock” arranged by Moses Hogan and “Jeremiah’s Fire” by Rollo Dillworth.
After the intermission, the concert’s attention turned to the young artist of the evening. Each year, the chorale highlights an emerging artist. The Young Artist Showcase this year featured Marissa Randae Harris, a soprano currently in her junior year at the University of the District of Columbia. Harris was most impressive offering the aria “Porgi Amor” by W. A. Mozart and the spiritual “My Soul’s Been Anchored in de Lord” by Florence Price. Both were greeted with enthusiastic applause from the audience and a standing ovation! Rounding out the second half of the concert were the arrangements of spirituals. “Fix Me, Jesus” arranged by Jacqueline B. Hairston is a beautiful setting of well-known melody. The choir sang with a sense of vocal care that lended an angelic support to the soprano soloist Angeli Ferrette, whose voice soared effortlessly.
Just a few blocks away, the Cathedral Choral Society was closing out its 75th anniversary season at the same time. The Heritage Signature Chorale gave a subtle nod to the late J. Reilly Lewis as they sang “O Thou, in Whose Presence.” Lewis had collaborated with the chorale on several occasions, one of which was serving as guest organist for this particular piece at the National City Christian Church in 2011.
Adding in the gospel element of sacred music, the Heritage Signature Chorale ended the concert with rousing “Hallelujah” by Rosephanye Powell. Intertwined with exuberant ‘hallelujahs’ and the repetitive declarations of ‘rejoice’ the ensemble left the audience literally waiting for more!