Ferris Chorale serves up a bracing, richly varied Baltic blast

Mon May 10, 2010 at 5:39 pm

By Bryant Manning

About a third of the way into the William Ferris Chorale’s “Baltic Blast” concert Friday night in Rogers Park, the 24-member ensemble unexpectedly stepped aside to the flanks of the church. Just behind the audience in the balcony of Loyola’s stunning Madonna della Strada Chapel, organist Thomas Weisflog broke into Rihards Dubra’s The Touch of Our Lady’s Sight, a hypnotic solo that approached the apocalyptic. Like some unnamable mix between Buxtehude and Tangerine Dream, the music spread throughout the sleek lakefront church like contrails. One ticketholder even covered her ears.

This bizarre but fascinating interlude in what was otherwise a full-blown choral concert nicely emblemized the late William Ferris (1937-2000), who built up this extraordinary organization by programming the unexpected and the contemporary. That the evening concluded with three disparate Estonian dances by Friedrich Sabelmann and Miina Harma was the cherry on top.

Paul French

As was the case for most of Friday, conductor and music director Paul French led the choristers through mostly unfamiliar terrain by way of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The sit-tight and listen moment came in the evening’s opener with Peteris Vasks’ remarkable Dona Nobis Pacem, scored for mixed-choir and organ. The lyrics include only the title’s three words, but it progresses prayerfully as the voices swirl to an exultant climax. The chorus showed a strong sense of cohesion all night long, parceling out powerful and flexible vocal lines.

Also memorable was Lithuanian composer Aleksandras Kacanuaskas’ Summer Nights, which featured soulful solo work from soprano Greer Davis who sang the romantic poetry of Maironis. Smaller-scale works included the jovial melodies of Janis Cimze’s Riga Resounds, Emilis Melngailis’ beautifully folkloric Dark Night, Green Grass and the patriotic Castle of Light from Jazeps Vitols.

Both of Vaclovas Augustinas’ songs were tinged with a Southern gospel-like blend of hope and melancholy, while unmistakably rooted in an Old World idiom. More fervently nationalist music included Jouzo Naujalio’s Beloved Lithuania, Juozo Gudaviciaus’ Where the Forest Grows Green and Ceslovo Sasnausko’s Where flows the River Sesupe. Even as the music piled up to fifteen selections, none of it felt arbitrary.

And back once again in the rear balcony, the chorus joined Weisflog in close accord for Arvo Part’s enthralling 1990 Berliner Messe. The piercing emotional weight communicated in the Sanctus and Agnus Dei made you forget those of Bach and Verdi, and the driving Gloria roared forth into the night.

This program will be repeated 3 p.m. Sunday, May 16 at Rockefeller Memorial Chapel. 773-325-2000; williamferrischorale.org

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