Several adjectives apply to Coro Allegro’s approach to music: elegance, finesse, and refinement among them.
All Handel Program by Coro Allegro. Conducted by David Hodgkins. At Sanders Theatre, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, March 25, 3 p.m.
By Anthony J. Palmer
Coro Allegro presented an all-Handel program in recognition of the contributions of Donald Teeters and his 44-year tenure as music director of The Boston Cecilia, noted for its recurring and comprehensive presentation of Handel’s dramatic works for chorus and orchestra.
Following a splendid performance of Coronation Anthem No. 1, “Zadok the Priest,” Donald Teeters was called to the stage and presented the Daniel Pinkham Award for his distinguished service to choral music and Boston arts. The award was established four recipients ago by David Hodgkins and Coro Allegro in “honor and memory” of one of Boston’s finest composers for not only his prolific contribution to American music but also for serving as “an accomplished role model for the LGBT community.”
Coro Allegro is an accomplished group whose outstanding quality is a beautifully lyrical tone without sacrificing a powerful forte when needed, exemplified in the first anthem. Beginning with a mezzo piano introduction in the strings, the first utterance by the chorus was a resounding “Zadok the Priest.” Although the dynamic range of the music performed was rather narrow from mezzo piano to forte, they never lost balance and a graceful blend and in addition exhibited a better diction than most choruses I’ve heard over the years.
Several adjectives apply to their approach to the music: elegance, finesse, refinement. My only wish throughout the program was to hear more body in the men’s section and occasionally the same from the altos. Otherwise, the chorus has a captivating and integrated sound of which any conductor would be proud.
The second selection in four short movements, Coronation Anthem No. 3, “The King Shall Rejoice,” was equally satisfying. Trumpets (modern so far as I could see and hear) and timpani added immeasurably to the festive mood of the first movement. The second movement, lyrically performed, exhibited appropriate dynamic contrasts and considerable nuance. The altos opened movement three with a beautifully spun tone, typical of much of the female singing. The fourth movement also exhibited a prized choral value: the ability to sing the short durations with resonance.
The longer work after intermission was the famous Dettingen Te Deum, written to honor King George II in his victory over the French in 1743. Although Handel expected the work to be performed soon after the event and with greater musical forces than usual, it was not played until November of that year, five months later. The king, the last English monarch to actually lead in battle, was present, and the performance was in the smaller Chapel Royal of St. James. The opening section relies on trumpets and drums to honor a battle won and concludes in the same fashion with a rousing martial character.
Along with the five-part chorus, the only soloist of the evening, bass Adrian Smith, gave considerable attention to the text in number six, “Thou art the King of Glory.” He sang the air following, “When Thou hadst overcome the sharpness,” and concluded with a recitative, “Vouchsafe, O Lord.” I detected little embellishment in his interpretation, but the music was sung purposefully, although I would have preferred a bit more drama. Mr. Smith, now in the opera program at Boston University, still could use some growth and maturity, but he certainly exhibited that he is progressing toward that end. His deep, resonant voice may need development before he can sing as a real bass.
A trio in the Te Deum is called for, and it was satisfied by three on a part, alto, tenor, and bass. A weightier sound might have fulfilled the music’s requirements better, but the trio was sung musically. There were some moments of unevenness in the first few sections of the Te Deum in terms of balance with the orchestra and voices, some instances of ambiguity in the music’s flow, and some weakness in a couple of string transitions. Nevertheless, the orchestra played well and supported the chorus with appropriate strength and musical sensitivity. The chorus seemed less sure in the opening sections than in the first half of the program but recovered with their well-blended sounds in the fourth section. This group is one of the top choruses in the area and deserves to be heard whenever they perform.
Altogether, Mr. Hodgkins conducted efficiently with a non-obtrusive style and displayed an excellent command of the choral medium, particularly with music of this period. While the performance lacked perfection, it made up for it by serving up a satisfying display of Handel’s representative and joyful music.