by Sam Juliano
A blustery cold afternoon outside the Presbyterian Church in Westfield, New Jersey on Sunday, January 26th was mightily tempered by the inner glow experienced by those who exited onto Mountain Avenue after the latest concert by the Choral Art Society of New Jersey. Entering their 51st year the non-profit group presently led by musical director Martin A. Sedek, performed two of the most widely performed choral works in the repertoire. Gabriel Faure’s Requiem, a personal favorite, has long been admired for its clarity, balance, serenity and ethereal beauty, all qualities sustained in an exceptionally stirring performance by the 40 strong singers of the Choral Art Society and 21 musicians of the Choral Art Society Orchestra.
It has long been asserted that Faure composed his Requiem -one of the most sublime works in the sacred classical canon- as an agnostic, yet the ardor of its spirituality is astounding. The Requiem is a transcendental work, but Faure is quoted as having said that he wanted it to be more of a comfort than as a rumination of our final years. The Choral Art Society’s featured soprano Valerie Bernhardt and baritone John-Andrew Fernandez delivered electrifying vocal turns and both the “Agnus Dei” and the extraordinarily beautiful and most readily identifiable final section “In Paradisum” were sung with uncommon emotional intensity and played with aching lyricism by the committed string section of the orchestra. Faure’s Requiem, sung in Latin, has in recent decades come to be considered one of the greatest of all requiems, and the Choral Art Society of New Jersey brought this beloved work a refreshing shade of musical serenity.
The second half of the choral pairing -actually it was performed first, before the intermission – was Mozart’s Mass in C “the Coronation”, which the musical genius wrote just two weeks into his appointment as court organist for the Prince-Archbishop of Saltzberg. The Mass in C has now come to be regarded as one of Mozart’s most popular works. The choral members gave a spirited reading of this exhilarating piece, especially the lovingly tender final section the “Agnus Dei.” The mass was conducted by Antonio Salieri at the coronation of Emperor Leopold II as King of Bohemia in 1791.
The “Solo Quartet” for the Mass in C included the soprano Christina Nicastro, the mezzo-soprano Sahoko Sato, the tenor Theron Cromer and the bass Vincent Grana. The men had sturdy, booming voices, while the women added vocal dexterity to the mix. The Westfield church has long yielded quality sound and acoustics for the performances held in this quaint, white dominated structure with two side balconies that run nearly the full length of the church, and the choral group gave the audience a fullness of sound.
The presentation of both of these classical masterworks continues and extends the direction the Choral Art Society of New Jersey have taken since they were first formed – dedication to the study and interpretation of the great choral masterpieces – and performing works dating from the Renaissance to the modern period. Sunday afternoon’s pieces in this puzzle fit right in without a hitch.
Caldecott Medal and Honor Predictions:
Runner-Up: Mr. Tiger Goes Wild
Whichever book of these two that misses out on the gold will absolutely, definitely win a silver Honor.
A Splash of Red
On A Beam of Light
The Matchbox Diary
Possibilities to get in:
Stardines Swim Across the Sky
Note: These are my predictions, not my personal choices. Still it would be nearly impossible to deny that Aaron Becker’s JOURNEY is not the most magnificent book of the year. To be sure I love many others supremely as I have announced on these pages.
In addition to the classical concert Lucille and I managed one film in theaters this past week. (I was so busy writing all the book reviews that I was unable to see anymore. But just as well as this is the weakest time of the year for movies as everyone knows)
Stranger by the Lake **** 1/2 (Saturday night) IFC
STRANGER BY THE LAKE’s French writer and director Alain Guiraudie showed up to the IFC Film Center for a Q & A after the film. This was one of the most unusual of films, but moody, provocative, taut and finally terrifying. There are some themes here and I have my own views, but I will await engagement from those in the comment sections. Suffice to say it leaves one disturbed, and uncertain what was finally implied, though the director did go a long way towards resolving that in the Q & A. The film’s gay characters were shown engaging in sex without any attempt to tone it down. Some have called this film pornographic, but whether that is true or not, this is an extraordinary film.
Young Sammy’s Cliffside Park High School “robotics” team won yet another meet this week – and are headed for another certain showdown in the coming weeks that could earn the team a chance to play in another state.