Songs of the Night

By Dana Abbott

ANDREW MEGILL’s program for “Songs of the Night” at All Saints Church in Carmel on Sunday evening presented music inspired by the nocturnal or was intended for evening performance. The performers were the men of the Carmel Bach Festival Chorale and Chorus. Kristin Ditlow and Lucy Faridany accompanied at the keyboard. Several numbers were a cappella.

The concert opened with Um Mitternacht (At Midnight) written by Anton Bruckner in the 1860s for singers in Linz, the composer’s hometown. The setting was rich with chromatic harmony applied to a romantic text and it was well sung.

A core grouping on the program was next, three songs by Franz Schubert, writing wondrously for voice. La Pastorella (The Shepherdess) was based on an Italian text by Goldini, celebrating the romanticized open freedom of the shepherd’s life. (No wolves lurking in the shadows here.) Nachthelle (Night Brightness) amplified a theme repeated in the Bruckner, the wonder of a bright, starry night and its ability to set everything in life aright. The fine solo by Owen MacIntosh in the treacherously high setting was stellar. The set concluded with Ständchen, one of several serenades by Schubert. This one, Zörgerndleise (hesitantly, quietly) for mezzo soprano and men’s chorus is dramatic and particularly charming, though it could have been conveyed with more intensity. Meg Bragle was the mezzo-soprano soloist. 

Megill turned next to Russian liturgical music. Pavel Chesnokov wrote the simple but effective Spasyeniye in 1912, before the revolution suppressed Orthodox church music. Sasyeniye (Salvation is Created) is one of Chesnokov’s best-known pieces. Rachmaninoff’s Slava v vishich (Glory to God) from the All Night Vigil (Vespers) followed. The Chorus members performed these two pieces with texts well-articulated and music rich in harmony and timbre. 

Francis Poulenc’s Quatres petites priers (4 Short Prayers) of St Francis was sung by the Chorale a cappella. Poulenc’s combination of musical piety and unexpected harmony combined with simple French elegance and beautiful expression. 

England provided a group of four songs. Vaughan Williams’ Down among the dead men was a refined but still brash working of a drinking song, summoning a humorous note. The Turtle Dove, a song about parting, featured a fine solo from Tim Krol. Next up was a particularly satisfying setting of Loch Lomond by Jonathan Quick with another outstanding solo, this time from Jos Milton.

The audience was very pleased. The set closed with The long day closes by Arthur Sullivan.

Lewis Spratlan provided Travels, which journalizes a trip to Australia, encountering kangaroos, with jumping figures in the piano-4-hands accompaniment.  The middle section was about meeting a boy named Otto on a train and meeting in the rain with the text repeating “Otto” as it floated to an end.  The last section evoked a rain storm in Paris which started lightly but grew ominous, ending with a rainbow over the Seine.  The composer, present in the audience, was acknowledged with warmth. 

The concert closed with Ave Maria by Franz Biebel, which had antiphonal moments with a trio of Chorale singers separated from the main body placed along an outer aisle.

Specialized programming, superb performances and great introductions of the works from Megill, a master in choral leadership, made a very rewarding evening for the capacity audience.