Monday, May 18, 2009

Portland Symphonic Choir sings spirited Rachmaninov Vespers

The Portland Symphonic Choir gave a sumptuous performance of Sergei Rachmaninov’s “Verpers” on Sunday afternoon (May 17). Standing in the apse of St. Mary’s Cathedral , the 120-vloice choir, under the direction of Steven Zopfi, created waves of warm, rich sounds with excellent tonal blend. Impressive especially were crescendos that reached massive proportions and the many passages in which the basses reached notes that came from the subterranean levels of the Russian soul.

Highlights also included the bell-like sounds from the sopranos and tenors in Movement 7 (“Glory to God in the highest, and on Earth peace, good will among men”) and the exposed notes held by various sections of the choir in Movement 9 (“Blessed art thou, O Lord”). Mezzo-soprano Sherry Olson sounded terrific during her solo in Movement 2 (“Bless the Lord, O my soul”), but the vibrato in tenor soloist Scott Tuomi’s voice seemed way out of control.

The choir sang the entire 15-movement, hour-long, a cappella piece in Russian with a break between movements 8 and 9 for intermission. I think that the singers were starting to run out of steam in the last movement, because their sound started to lose some of the best colors. Yet before singing the final notes they gathered their artistic might and ended the concert gloriously. The audience responded enthusiastically with a standing ovation and sustained applause.

This concert repeats at St. Mary's Parish Church in Mt. Angel (575 E. College St.) on Sunday, May 31 at 4 pm.


Caveat emptor: I have sung with this choir for many years, but I've taken my critic's oath to not let that experience affect my objectivity in this review.

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