Zephyr Sunday, Feb. 16, St. John’s Cathedral
Part of the pleasure of hearing a fine concert lies in listening to the way the music fills the space where it is played.
Zephyr’s “Voices of the Spirit” concert Sunday afternoon filled the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in a lustrous way.
The concert’s co-producers, Zephyr’s Kendall Feeney and St. John organist Charles Bradley, took advantage of the cathedral’s vast neo-gothic space. Their selection of 20th-century religious music “played the building,” to use Bradley’s phrase.
The concert began strikingly with Ingolf Dahl’s Music for Brass Instruments played from the west gallery, behind the audience. The work begins solemnly with a Chorale Fantasy on “Christ lag in Todesbanden,” a hymn tune Bach used often. The hymn evolves against the increasing weight of dissonance before breaking into a livelier mood, then returning to its somber opening. The fugue pits a festive melody against tumbling countermelodies.
The cathedral’s acoustics make brass music sound very effective. And the playing of Zephyr’s Brass Quintet - William Berry and Andrew Plamondon on trumpets, Margaret Wilds on horn and David Matern and Cameron Dunlop on trombones - was excellent.
Arthur Shepherd’s “Triptych for High Voice and String Quartet” formed a striking contrast with the severity of the Dahl work. Its texts were by the Bengali poet-philosopher Rabindranath Tagore.
Musically, “Triptych” is French with strong influences by Faure, Debussy and Ravel. The rapturous interplay of impressionist colors in Shepherd’s music matches Tagore’s peculiar blend of spiritualism and barely suppressed eroticism.
The work was luminously sung by soprano Darnelle Preston and accompanied by violinists Tracy Dunlop and Charlotte Bickford, violist Claire Keeble and cellist Jennifer Cox.
Bradley’s choice of organ music was also imposing. He played Herman Berlinski’s darkly solemn, improvisatory “Two Preludes for the High Holy Days” assisted by trumpeter William Berry and Larry Jess playing the trumpet’s mellow cousin, the flugelhorn.
The afternoon’s virtuoso showpiece was Dan Locklair’s “Rubrics,” a set of five short works that exploited the full range of the organ’s (and the organist’s) resources, with highly effective use of literally all the instrument’s bells and whistles. This 1988 set has become an understandable recital favorite with organists.
Locklair mixes quiet sections of simple melodies against cushions of hushed dissonant clusters with raucous toccatalike sections featuring theatrical glissandos and dance tunes.
Preston and Feeney, Zephyr’s artistic director, brought Sunday’s concert to a tranquil close with Leonard Bernstein’s “A Simple Song” sung simply and beautifully.