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Archive for May 17th, 2016

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by Sam Juliano

The May 14th concert by the Choral Art Society of New Jersey featured work by some of classical music’s most iconic figures, but it was the reunion of a student playing one of his one-time mentor’s most celebrated compositions that brought a special emotional heft to the proceedings.  Performed at the acoustic-friendly Presbyterian Church in Westfield -the group’s home base for decades, the night brought CAS Music Director Martin Sedak and his previous instructor – the composer Matthew Harris – together in a glorious presentation of the latter’s Oceanic Eyes, a four part cantata commissioned in 2006 based on texts by celebrated Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, and distinguished by the employment of classical guitar that allowed the work’s distinct Spanish romanticism to shine through.  The composition’s lilting metaphors and colorful imagery seems inspired by the British poet Alfred Noyes who wove undying nocturnal passions into the narrative of his arresting “The Highwayman.”  Yet it was the highly emotive, stirring and soulful reading by the committed singers of the CAS who injected Harris’ work with a sense of immediacy, aided by the prism of water, which flows through universal appreciation.Sedak’s decision to open the show with a rarely performed song by the great British composer Ralph Vaughan Williams proved to be a masterstroke of mood and staging.  To be sure “The Lover’s Ghost” (from Five English Folk Songs)  is one of the most sublime and haunting choral pieces from anyone, replete as the piece is with color, form, harmony and expression but especially prominent for its contrapuntal construction.  Sedak directed the singers to create two lines in the space between the central orchestra and the sides, making all the more of a powerful impression.  Though the second work is another infrequently negotiated composition, the fact that it was written by Beethoven elevates it immeasurably for classical music fans who can never get enough of one of the form’s supreme immortals.  A Calm Sea & A Prosperous Voyage is noted for the composer’s setting the text by Johann von Goethe and as an earlier example of his evocative nature writing that is strikingly evident in his later symphonic masterworks, so expertly visited by the CAS. (more…)

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