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Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Falmouth Chorale, Redline Brass Quintet: Shapenote hymns, music of Schubert, Rutter, Gabrieli, others

 Falmouth Chorale director John Yankee

Falmouth Chorale director John Yankee

Brass, and human voice. Two versatile instruments, powered by breath—and force. In concert together, the musical possibilities are fascinating.

Conductor John Yankee combined these instruments Saturday afternoon in the Simon Center for the Arts at Falmouth Academy, bringing in the Redline Brass Quintet to join his Falmouth Chorale. The ensembles were joined by Stephanie Weaver on piano and organ, along with percussionists and additional brass. They performed a wide-ranging program of sacred and secular settings, many arranged by Yankee himself.

Redline Brass—Andy Harms and Kyle Spraker (trumpets), Clark Matthews (French horn), Chris Moore and Phil Hyman (trombones)—opened the program alone, first with a selection from Bach’s “Art of Fugue,” and then adding five madrigal settings by Monteverdi. Those settings were intimate and inviting, a reminder that vocal music transitions easily to interpretations by brass.

Yankee arranged three early shape-note hymns for his chorale, which hearkened back to New England’s earliest musical days. Shape-note was a form of simple musical notation made for amateurs; the actual shape of the note (triangle, square, etc.) told the singer all they needed to know about pitch, volume and attack. 

The music hardly sounds simple though. Of the three hymns, William Billings’ “When Jesus Wept” introduced contemporary-sounding harmonies and excited rhythms. Matthews accompanied nicely here, behind a stripped-down version (16 singers) of the chorale.

Schubert’s German Mass is a real curiosity: written not from liturgical texts but with secular poetry, the work was banned from churches. Following as it does the order of the mass however, it hardly seems controversial.

Yankee chose to have it sung first in German and then in translation—using the repeats to allow for both. It was an inspired move, avoiding the need for audiences to look at the text, and allowing the music to breath. Weaver accompanied on organ (with unfortunate volume issues—it was barely audible—a problem that was corrected after intermission).

They were simple settings, but with strong colors and harmonies. With the brass quintet, and timpanist Mark Prall adding accents, the effect created felt like powerful, praiseworthy music that could be realized by any group of dedicated singers. An understated Credo, beginning with voices only in German, then segued by the horns into an accompanied part in English, was nicely sung, and encapsulated the spirit Schubert was after.

Yankee’s arrangement of a Gabrieli madrigal placed the choir apart (he moved them stage right), against a second set of “voices”—in this case, the five horns, which he moved as far to stage left as possible. Mimicking what was once common—two choirs at opposite sides of an enormous cathedral, echoing each other antiphonally—Yankee set the madrigal to reflect the give-and-take original. Brief but beautiful, both “voices” captured Gabrieli’s intentions nicely.

The program closed with John Rutter’s 1974 “Gloria,” a three-part vocal work with brass (Redline was augmented here with additional players), percussion (Prall joined by Timothy McGee) and keyboards. Rutter remains a favorite with amateur chorales, mainly for his inventive but still tuneful settings. 

This “Gloria” was no different. The three movements—a brisk Gloria, and slow Domine Deus, and a charged Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, complete with fugue and inspired Amen—had great energy. The chorale, sounding its best in full voice, with all four vocal ranges involved, showed how well-rehearsed they were. It was the capstone to a broad, ambitious program, and nicely turned.

This concert repeats Sunday afternoon at 4:00 p.m. The next Falmouth Chorale program will be On Earth, Peace, December 8 and 9, in the First Congregational Church in Falmouth. Visit www.falmouthchorale.org or 774-392-2383.

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