| Wentz Concert Hall, Naperville, IL
Downers Grove Choral Society
|Wentz Concert Hall, Naperville, IL, 171 E Chicago Ave, Naperville, IL, United States|
Sunday 7-Nov-10 03:00pm
Downers Grove Choral Society
Since the summer of 2009, I have had the privilege to study voice under Dr. Robert Holst, assistant professor of music at Lewis University. Dr. Holst is also director of the Downers Grove Choral Society, a highly-regarded community chorus in my area. Last year at his bidding, I attended the Society's dynamite and spiritually uplifting 50th-anniversary performance of Handel's Messiah, an unforgettable experience which made me decide to attend their season opener concert featuring the works of Handel, Bach, and Bloch.
The concert opened with Handel's three majestic Coronation Anthems, which were originally commissioned to commemorate the coronation of King George II and his wife, Queen Caroline. Throughout the duration of these three regal numbers, Dr. Holst demonstrated his signature energy on the pulpit, masterfully bringing the chorus and orchestra together into creating a truly majestic sound literally fit for a king. In particular, the chorus demonstrated a mammoth and well-blended vocal sound that enveloped the audience and enraptured me into musical ecstasy. Of particular note was the sparkling rendition of "Zadok the Priest", in which the chorus cheerfully delivered the hallowed strains with much gusto. Indeed, if both King George and Handel were to suddenly return to life, they would have undoubtedly been most impressed with the chorus' stately rendition of "their" piece.
Following Handel, the orchestra members and Dr. Holst joined forces with dynamic flautist Mary Stingley to present a masterful historically-informed compromise rendition of Bach's epic Orchestral Suite in B Minor. A perennial classical music "classic", this famous piece has been used and abused in all forms ranging from carefully-researched period instrument performances to essential student flute repertoire and even cell phone ring tones. Indeed, as implied in the previous sentence, this piece has been practically "beat to death", yet Dr. Holst, Stingley, and the orchestra members managed to give the audience a truly fresh rendition that captured the awe and enthusiasm of the audience. During the duration of the work, Stingley practically stole the show, handling her instrument with consummate control and sparkling with utmost technical eclat, drawing an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from the audience. Being an HIPP (historically informed performance practice) student who is very picky as to which Baroque renditions I listen to and not a big fan of the common, vibrato-laden, modernist modern instrument renditions with which the general public is familiar, I was greatly surprised at how alarmingly close this rendition paralleled the finest of period instrument renditions. Excluding a few historically inappropriate ornaments by Stingley and some continuous vibrato by some of the string players, all the performers faithfully adhered to Baroque articulation rules and phrasing, thus winning my HIPP "seal of approval" and dispelling my predisposed notions that all modern instrument renditions of Baroque music are rendered in a historically inappropriate manner.
The highlight of the entire concert, however, was the post-intermission performance of Ernst Bloch's rarely performed yet hauntingly beautiful Sacred Service. Although many high-end classical works have been composed, no such equivalent existed for Judaism until the composition of Bloch's work in 1933. Being a both Roman Catholic highly involved in liturgical music and a Christian history enthusiast as well, I was most anxious to gain insight into the worship of my "elderly brethren and sisters in Christ" and their musical contributions. The chorus' performance and the work itself did not disappoint. Baritone and guest soloist David Goldstein -- cantor at North Shore Congregation Israel of Glencoe -- eloquently delivered the hallowed strains of the Scriptures and prayers with genuine devotion and mastery, while the chorus responded and accented his heartfelt strains with a confident, rich resonance. Special orchestral kudos must be given to both the brass and percussion sections, who masterfully and majestically conjured up a dynamic sound reminiscent of traditional Jewish worship instruments, thus contributing greatly to the Judaic atmosphere at hand.
All in all, DCGS did not disappoint at this concert. No doubt all the selections were excellent, yet the Bloch -- an unexpected surprise to my expectations -- alone made the concert a worthy candidate for musical attendance. I not only walked away feeling musically satisfied, but also walked away with a deeper knowledge for my religious heritage as a Roman Catholic and with a deeper appreciation for sacred music in general. Still, even though much time has elapsed since I attended this concert, I can still hear Goldstein's rich, flowing baritone voice reverently dramatically intoning the hallowed and hauntingly timeless Hebrew strains of the Shema: "Hear, O Israel, the Lord thy God is One!"