Saturday evening’s Sinfonia 3 concert, entitled ‘Stabat Mater,’ was performed in Cochrane Street United Church, an excellent setting for a concert.
The church’s fine acoustics and slightly rising main floor overhung with balconies on three sides make it possible for the audience to hear and see well.
Before the intermission, the strings of the Newfoundland Symphony Orchestra performed Ottorino Respighi’s third suite of “Ancient Airs and Dances,” composed in 1932, based on Italian and French music from the 17th century.
The opening movement, “Italiana,” captured our attention immediately with swelling phrasing. It was followed by the “Arie di Corte,” a ballet based on six contrasting tunes with changes in meter and a wide range of tempi, led in and out by the violas.
The lovely third movement, “Siciliano,” a dance dating back to circa 1600, was performed with all the poise of that bygone era.
That in turn was contrasted by the striding vigor of the final movement, the “Passacaglia.”
The program notes, a welcome addition to the Sinfonia series, provided a single paragraph prose summary of the 13th century Latin sequence sung in the 12 movements of the “Stabat Mater,” a meditation on the suffering of Mary during Christ’s crucifixion.
Giovanni Battista Pergolesi’s setting of the “Stabat Mater,” composed right before his early death in 1736, became immensely popular.
Robert King, conductor of “The King’s Consort,” writes that “it became the most frequently printed single work in the eighteenth century.”
Often performed by a smaller group, it was presented on Saturday evening by the Lady Cove Women’s Choir with five soloists, accompanied by the NSO strings, and organ, an arrangement that worked well, both acoustically and visually. Among other honours, the Lady Cove Women’s Choir has twice won the CBC Radio Competition for Amateur Choirs.
If there was anything amateur about their performance of the “Stabat Mater,” it was two rather ragged entries near the beginning, but these were more than compensated for by the wonderfully soft choral sound at the beginning.
Conductor Marc David’s careful choice of tempi made the most of Pergolesi’s matchless voice-leading, allowing each movement to unfold with apparent ease and with adequate attention to detail.
In the sixth movement, “Vidit suum dulcem natum,” featuring the big voice of soprano soloist Deirdre Costello, David essentially stopped conducting, letting the weight of the individual notes carry the music along, with the orchestra following the singer.
Each of the five soloists was superb in her own way, giving the work plenty of character.
Their solos were full of ornamentation. Just how much ornamentation became evident when alto Cheri Carroll chose to have her part rise at the end in an original way.
Alto Sarah MacDonald paid particular attention to the words, soprano Michelle Chippett sang with pleasing expression and Julia Halfyard took the time to place her solo perfectly in the overall work.
In discussing this performance, though, equal credit must be given to the NSO strings.
Each player was performing with pride and joy.
I particularly liked the slight smile of satisfaction on the face of the first violin, second desk, outside. She knew that it was good.